Republican Kevin McCarthy wins US House majority leader post

Newly elected House Majority Leader Rep Kevin Mccarthy walks out of a House Republican Conference meeting on June 19, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
Newly elected House Majority Leader Rep Kevin Mccarthy walks out of a House Republican Conference meeting on June 19, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Republican Kevin McCarthy was selected on Thursday as the new US House majority leader, capping a whirlwind week for a party scrambling to heal internal rifts after the ouster of GOP number two Eric Cantor.

With the even-keeled McCarthy elected to the position vacated by Mr Cantor, his job as House majority whip was won by far-right up-and-comer Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who pledged to bring a more conservative value set to Republican leadership.

Mr McCarthy emerged this week as the consensus candidate to fill the majority leader role at a time of deep divisions within the Republican Party ahead of November's congressional elections.

"I make one promise: I will work every single day to make sure this conference has the courage to lead, with the wisdom to listen," Mr McCarthy told reporters after the closed-door vote.

The loss of establishment giant Cantor to an even more conservative but virtually unknown Tea Party-backed challenger last week reopened a rift between moderate Republicans and the far-right wing that has rattled the party in recent years.

Mr McCarthy, 49, was elected to Congress just eight years ago and has experienced a meteoric rise in Washington. He will now be deputy to House Speaker John Boehner, who is eager to bring a renewed sense of stability in his fractious caucus in the run-up to November and the eventual presidential race of 2016.

Mr McCarthy insisted he has "grown up through the grassroots" in largely Democratic California. "They elected a guy who is a grandson of a cattle rancher, son of a firefighter. Only in America do you get that opportunity," he said.

While some conservatives expressed concern about elevating a lawmaker from a non-red state to run the House floor, Mr McCarthy had the backing of several committee chairmen, including Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee.

But Mr McCarthy was challenged for the post by fiercely conservative Raul Labrador. The two-term congressman from Idaho had the support of the far-right wing, which launched an unsuccessful coup against Mr Boehner last year. But Mr Labrador's candidacy did not gain broader traction.

The election to leadership of Mr Scalise, who heads the caucus of House conservatives known as the Republican Study Committee, crucially gives the far-right a spot at the top of the party. "I'm looking forward to bringing a fresh, new voice to our leadership table and joining with this team to help confront the challenges that people all across this country are facing," he said.

But his victory did little to placate conservatives who wanted to see a firebrand from the right wing of the party - not a preserver of Washington status quo - named to the crucial majority leader role.

"We didn't achieve what we wanted," congressman Justin Amash told reporters. Constituents "wanted us to pursue a more conservative agenda, and I don't think grassroots Republicans are going to be satisfied with the outcome today," he said.

They will have another shot at the leadership positions in just five months, when Republicans gather after November's election to decide on the party's top brass for the incoming Congress.

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