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WASHINGTON – Maybe, there is some hope for conservatives yet.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, has announced he is running for House majority leader.
While not a member of the tea party caucus, he is a favorite among many tea party members.
However, solid conservative Rep. Steve King, R-Minn., is not sold on Labrador, calling him soft on immigration amnesty.
“#Labrador is pro amnesty. If not this year, he has strongly advocated for amnesty next year. No fair trying to redefine amnesty,” King tweeted on Friday.
Labrador is considered more conservative than Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who was left as the only other contender in the race Thursday night, when Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas dropped out.
Labrador is challenging McCarthy, the majority whip in the House, in an obscure, but particularly important, in-party election among Republicans.
The position of majority leader suddenly became open this week when Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., resigned the post, after his shocking primary defeat on Tuesday, an enormous upset win by 12 percentage points to little-known economics professor David Brat.
“Eric is a good friend and I have tremendous respect for him. But the message from Tuesday is clear — Americans are looking for a change in the status quo,” Labrador said in a statement.
Capitol Hill insiders expect the next majority leader to become the next speaker of the House, and conservatives are desperate to get someone in GOP leadership who will fight to stop immigration amnesty, Obamacare and debt and spending increases.
In a real sense, this election could affect the entire future of the Republican party, and the country.
And Labrador senses that, saying, “Americans don’t believe their leaders in Washington are listening and now is the time to change that.”
“I want a House leadership team that reflects the best of our conference. A leadership team that can bring the Republican conference together. A leadership team that can help unite and grow our party,” he added.
The election is next Thursday, leaving Labrador little time to round up votes.
Labrador said he hoped to form “a leadership team that can bring the Republican conference together,” and seems to believe he can build a bridge between GOP establishment leaders and rank-and-file members of Congress.
About 40 tea party members do not want Cantor to be merely replaced by an another GOP establishment member, believing the loss was a protest vote against the party leadership.
“It would be a disaster if it’s McCarthy. Everyone knows that, and sadly, we might be dumb enough as a party to do that. And if that’s the case, there’s no chance, Boehner will be re-elected as speaker. It will show we haven’t learned a single lesson from the Cantor loss,” a well-placed Capitol Hill source told WND.
House conservatives have been furiously tried to stop McCarthy.
By the end of Thursday, they had apparently come up short, after a shocking turnaround that left the Californian as the only declared candidate still in the running for the post.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, spent all day positioning himself to give McCarthy a strong challenge, then suddenly quit the race. It was a stunning ending to a day with many twists and turns.
The day began with Politico reporting that majority whip McCarthy had the position of GOP majority leader in the House all but sewn-up, and he was “closing in on a victory.”
Not true, a Capitol Hill insider told WND, adding sarcastically, “They wish.”
Conservative confidence was high and opposition to the whip was fierce. The source described McCarthy as “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” and someone who would merely do the bidding of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
WND spoke with a number of well-placed Capitol Hill sources about the infighting to replace Cantor, because it could be well more than just an obscure in-party election to determine who will be second-in-command for the GOP in the House of Representatives.
With the contest for majority leader pitting establishment versus conservative Republicans, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, was the strong choice of tea-party types in the House, but he dropped out early Thursday.
An insider told WND that Hensarling and Sessions had met that day to decide which of them would drop out, so as to not split the vote against McCarthy.
Sessions had been seen by some insiders as the next-best option for conservatives, a “far better” choice than McCarthy, in the words of one Hill staffer.
Another source told WND that, despite what Politico reported, it was still a “toss-up” in the race for majority leader between McCarthy and Sessions.
And the Texan was making feisty remarks indicating he was spoiling for a fight to the finish, saying “The agenda moving forward needs to be a conservative agenda,” and, “I come from a red state and see things in terms of what is good for the country and modeling those things that are great for the country and selling those attributes is what will help us to win the House, win the Senate and win the presidency.”
Fellow Texans were optimistic about Sessions’ chances, with Rep. Joe Barton, telling the Dallas Morning News, “I think Pete Sessions will be the next majority leader,” and Rep. Bill Flores saying, “It’s going to be a very competitive race.”
But something happened between Thursday afternoon and Thursday evening to turn things completely around.
At 8:38 pm EDT, Politico reported that Sessions had suddenly dropped out of the race.
“After thoughtful consideration and discussion with my colleagues, I have made the decision to not continue my run for House majority leader,” Sessions said in a statement.
“Today, it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party. At this critical time, we must remain unified as a Republican conference. As always, I stand ready and willing to work with our team to advance the conservative agenda that the American people demand and deserve.”
Just what had made it “obvious” to him that such a race would create a “painful division” he did not say.
While Sessions’ did appear to have growing support among House Republicans, his record on amnesty was mixed, and so were conservative opinions of him.
Sessions made statements at town halls favoring immigration amnesty in 2013, but he had been portraying himself as an amnesty hawk lately.
In fact, in the wake of Cantor’s stunning primary defeat on Tuesday, a loss interpreted by conservatives and many others as an anti-amnesty protest vote, Sessions claimed his campaign for majority leader was a protest message aimed at the White House.
“I think this administration needs to be prodded and reminded that the entire sovereignty of the United States is at risk if we do not secure our border, north, south, east and west,” Sessions told reporters Thursday.
Apparently referring to the sudden influx of thousands of children from Latin America, unaccompanied by adults and illegally crossing the U.S. border daily, Sessions added, “The things which are occurring at our border must be stopped and must be controlled before we do anything else that encourages people to come here.”
Sessions had to fend off a tea-party candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin in his own primary, one who criticized him for being soft on immigration. Palin knocked Sessions for supporting a guest-worker program that would give immigrants legal status.
These contradictions are why a source told WND that conservatives had not been overly enthusiastic about Sessions, but they had seen him as at least “malleable” on amnesty, and someone who could “be moved to the right,” unlike McCarthy.
However, even as the insiders who spoke to WND described Sessions as the next-best option to McCarthy, apparently not all conservatives were sold.
Thursday afternoon, she told WND, “(Rep.) Steve King (R-Iowa) and I held a press availability and called on leadership to extend the time for a majority leadership vote.”
“In light of the recent Virginia election results, we need to have at least one candidate who hasn’t advocated for some sort of amnesty,” she declared, adding, “Neither of us will vote for anyone for any leadership position if they are in any way pro-amnesty.”
Even after he had dropped out, Bachmann reflected, “I’d like to see Jeb Hensarling for majority leader, but will consider anyone who consistently has maintained a belief in upholding America’s border security laws.”
What conservatives did agree upon, was the need to stop McCarthy, particularly because of the strong suspicion that Boehner will step down from his post as speaker by January, presuming the GOP holds the House.
In an interview with WND Thursday, well-known conservative activist Richard Viguerie predicted that Boehner would step down from his position as House speaker before 2015.
That’s what makes the race for majority leader so crucial. In the words of one source, “The next leader most definitely will be the next speaker.”
“He (Boehner) can’t say he’s stepping down now, or he’d be a lame duck and no one would listen to him. But all his friends are gone, all his lieutenants are gone, he bought a house in Florida. I don’t how much more of a telegraph you can send about your intentions.”
There was one other possibility for majority leader, a dark horse candidate mentioned by a number of sources.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was described as someone who could bridge the gap between establishment and conservative Republicans.
He had not thrown his hat into the ring at the time of this report, but one source said his surrogates were actively campaigning for the congressman, apparently testing the waters.
The sources WND spoke with were unanimously effusive in their praise for Jordan, considering him a selection much superior to the current choices, with one saying, simply, “Jim would be great.”
Jordan serves prominently on the House Oversight committee, and has been a key player in the investigations into the IRS and Benghazi scandals.
He is a close colleague to Benghazi select committee chairman Rep Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and has been picked to serve on that committee. He is also a trusted confidante to Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has turned the gavel over to Jordan on numerous occasions while leaving for votes in the House.
One conservative publicly lobbyied for Jordan to run for majority leader.
“I am hopeful that Jim Jordan will reconsider and understand, as I believe, he is called by history to stand up to this,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the Daily Caller.
King called Jordan an ideal candidate who commands the respect of the whole GOP conference.
“I don’t know that there is a better available candidate than Jim Jordan,” King said. “He is a full-spectrum, constitutional conservative, fiscal and social.”
King and Bachmann are upset about the quick vote for the majority leader, scheduled for June 19.
They see it as a ploy to limit the field and keep conservatives from having the time to build support for a candidate of their own.
A source told WND that was certainly the case, and predicted the movement to delay the vote could well gain traction as more House members have time to think about their situation.
But unless Jordan, or some other conservative, throws his or her hat into the ring, and soon, it looks like McCarthy will have the field all to himself, and, someday, perhaps a clear path to the position of speaker of the House.
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