Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, is in the race for House majority leader. Labrador this afternoon announced his candidacy for the House’s No. 2 post, giving Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., currently in the No. 3 slot as majority whip, a challenger for the job.
“I am running for majority leader because I want to help create a vision of growth and opportunity for everyone and start getting to work for the American people,” Labrador said in a statement.
Conservative members of the Republican caucus began reaching out to Labrador, 46, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio in hopes of securing a challenger to McCarthy, 49. Labrador’s candidacy will earn him support from the conference’s conservative and tea party-affiliated members.
>>> Updated and expanded version of an earlier report.
After Rep. Eric Cantor, Va., the House’s current No. 2 Republican, lost his 7th District primary Tuesday to Randolph-Macon economics professor Dave Brat, GOP lawmakers scrambled to settle on potential successors in the leadership ranks.
McCarthy said Wednesday that he would seek the post of majority leader, second only to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner set the Republican conference’s election to select a new majority leader for June 19. Republicans will vote by secret ballot.
Shortly after Cantor’s loss, McCarthy went to work whipping the votes needed to win him the majority leader spot. His efforts in crisscrossing the 233-member Republican conference made him the front runner.
Cantor endorsed the Californian during the press conference Wednesday where he announced his resignation from the leadership post, effective July 31.
Conservative insiders consider the current majority whip to be part of the establishment wing of House Republicans. Labrador, they said, represents conservatives’ answer to McCarthy.
“I want a House leadership team that reflects the best of our conference,” Labrador said. “A leadership team that can bring the Republican conference together. A leadership team that can help unite and grow our party. Americans don’t believe their leaders in Washington are listening and now is the time to change that.”
Outside conservative groups such as FreedomWorks began pledging allegiance to Labrador, energized by the prospect of a conservative on the leadership team.
“Between McCarthy and Labrador, the decision is a no-brainer,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a letter to supporters. “Rep. Labrador is the strongest choice for constitutional conservatives who are ready to shake things up in Congress.”
The Idaho Republican scores high on the organization’s scorecard, which tracks members’ votes on issues of economic freedom, with a 92 percent lifetime rating. McCarthy earned a 72 percent.
Labrador received a 77 percent on the tougher scorecard of the lobbying arm of The Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action for America, which measures how conservative lawmakers are by their votes and other legislative activity. McCarthy earned a score of 42 percent.
Although Labrador ranks higher than most of his colleagues on the Heritage Action scorecard — the average score is 62 percent — he also was criticized for his work on an immigration reform bill that other conservatives saw as opening the door to amnesty for illegal immigrants.
An immigration lawyer by trade, Labrador supports an overhaul of the immigration system that begins with securing the borders and enforcing laws already on the books. He joined a group of House members working on a bill in 2013, but backed out after disagreements with Democrats over who should pay for the medical care of illegal immigrants.
Labrador says he still supports reform, but it is unlikely to occur in 2014 – largely because he and other lawmakers don’t trust President Obama to enforce current laws.
Boehner, Cantor, and other House leaders, including McCarthy, also have said their lack of trust in Obama prevents them from moving forward on an immigration bill. Conservatives, however, have suspected for some time that House leadership might move a bill that the Senate could turn into a vehicle for amnesty.
Born to a single mother, Labrador was 13 when he came to the United States from Puerto Rico. He graduated from Brigham Young University and got his law degree from the University of Washington. He won election to represent Idaho’s 1st District as part of the tea party wave in 2010.
McCarthy, a California native, started his own business, Kevin O’s Deli, when he was 21. A graduate of California State University at Bakersfield, he was first elected to represent the 23rd District in 2006. His colleagues elected him as the No. 3 Republican in 2010.