Rep. Kevin McCarthy
Credit: DonkeyHotey/Flickr

While most of the political world was focused on supposed disarray within the House Democratic caucus while preparing to decide whether Nancy Pelosi will have a second go-round as speaker, the House Republicans actually held their leadership elections on Wednesday. There were no surprises.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is virtually the last California Republican seen in nature, obliterated his Freedom Caucus challenger, Jim Jordon of Ohio, in a resounding 159-to-43 tally. He will become the House Minority Leader, which is the position Pelosi holds now. The White House requested that Jordan be compensated with the top job on the House Judiciary Committee so he can help fend off impeachment, but McCarthy shrugged that off. The Republican Steering Committee will decide who gets the Judiciary position—and they have no love for Jordan or the Freedom Caucus.

The job of House Minority Whip, the GOP’s number two position, went easily to Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana in a voice vote. In June 2014, when Scalise won the job of House majority whip, I was so unfamiliar with him that I wrote a piece called “Who is Steve Scalise?” Before long, it emerged that Scalise had spoken at a European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) conference, but courting white nationalists didn’t keep Trump out of the White House, and it surely didn’t cost Scalise his leadership position.

Scalise is a more sympathetic figure these days because he was nearly mortally wounded in the June 14, 2017 Congressional Baseball Shooting. He handled that with a lot of grace and courage, but his politics remain the same.

The most disturbing outcome of the GOP’s House leadership election was the uncontested elevation of Liz Cheney of Wyoming to the number three position that was once held by her father: chair of the House Republican Conference.

She made her bid for the spot on Nov. 7 with a letter to colleagues in which she criticized Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who has held the position for three terms. McMorris Rodgers announced the next day that she was stepping aside from her leadership role and seeking to climb the ranks of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The elder Cheney, who served as GOP conference chair from 1987 to 1989, was present for Wednesday’s vote for his daughter.

“He told me not to screw it up,” Liz Cheney told reporters with a laugh Wednesday afternoon when asked what advice she received from her father.

That ought to send a cold chill down the spine of the entire world as it could be the first sign of the Zombie Apocalypse.

In 2013, Cheney announced a primary challenge to incumbent Wyoming senator Mike Enzi but she withdrew ignominiously by January 2014 when she couldn’t gain any traction or overcome the perception that she was a Virginia-based carpetbagger. Unfortunately, a vacancy allowed her to capture Wyoming’s lone congressional seat two years later, with a 60-29 percent advantage. It’s hard to avoid the perception that the sophomore lawmaker owes her quick rise to the leadership more to her name than to her accomplishments. What’s not clear is why the Cheney name is still good in Republican circles.

Here’s how the rest of the elections went:

In other uncontested races, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), a Baptist preacher and leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee, was elected GOP conference vice chairman, while current GOP Conference Secretary Jason Smith (R-Mo.) won another two years in that post.

Meanwhile, Republicans picked Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) to lead candidate recruitment and campaign efforts as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee as the GOP tries to win back the majority in 2020.

In the only other competitive race, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) defeated fellow Freedom Caucus member Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) in the race for GOP Policy Committee chairman.

The most consequential of those picks is the election of Minnesota’s Tom Emmer to lead the NRCC. One of only three surviving Minnesota Republicans in Congress, he was just reelected with 61 percent of the vote. His exurban 6th district, which straddles the Mississippi River as it winds its way from the Northwest into the capital region, was formerly held by the infamous Michele Bachmann.

Rep. Emmer will replace Ohio’s Steve Stivers whose NRCC leadership team included defeated members like Mimi Walters of California; Kevin Yoder of Kansas; Ryan Costello and Rep. Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania; John Katko of New York;  and the nearly defeated Rodney Davis of Illinois, Bill Johnson of Ohio and Will Hurd of Texas. Former NRCC chairman, Pete Sessions of Texas, was also defeated.

Like fellow Minnesotan Pete Stauber, an incoming freshman Republican serving the state’s 8th District, Emmer is a former hockey player. This seems to be a new prerequisite for a Republican hoping to win election in the land of 10,000 lakes. For some reason, the southern-dominated House Republican caucus must have convinced itself that Emmer can win back the suburbs, but Emmer is most famous for narrowly losing the governor’s race in the most favorable year of 2010, despite taking enormous donations from Target and Best Buy. I am sure the Democrats will shortly remind voters that Emmers was twice arrested for drunk driving before becoming a legislator. In that position, he sponsored a bill that would have reduced the license suspension time for getting a DUI and ended the state’s policy of revoking one’s license immediately before any actual conviction in court.

The GOP’s new House leadership is made up of a nearly extinct species: the California Republican, a Louisiana friend of white nationalists, the newest member of the blood-gargling Cheney clan, and formerly hard partying hockey player who is a favorite of big monopolizing retail chains.

Surely, they will lead the Party of Lincoln back to its former glory.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at