Cantor, right, has essentially handed the majority leader baton off to McCarthy. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy does not officially step into his new job as majority leader until August, but for all intents and purposes, the California Republican has already assumed the visible duties of his next leadership role.
McCarthy laid out the week’s schedule during a weekly colloquy with Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer on the House floor on July 17, and earlier in the week, it was McCarthy, not Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who addressed the press. McCarthy also handled the colloquy the week before, and Cantor has not attended GOP leadership press conferences since the day after he lost a primary.
McCarthy has continued to manage the whip duties as well, while Majority Whip-elect Steve Scalise of Louisiana ramps up his operation.
Scalise was set to take on a more visible role in conference leadership with his delivery of the weekly Republican address this weekend.
As McCarthy and Scalise raise their profiles, Cantor has quietly stepped to the background, giving few interviews and avoiding the spotlight since his stunning June 10 primary loss to college professor Dave Brat.
Behind the scenes, however, the Virginia Republican’s staff is still handling many issues while McCarthy builds his operation. Legislative requests from members, for instance, are still being handled by Cantor’s member services shop and his staff is also overseeing committee work.
Some members of McCarthy’s team have begun handling floor scheduling, aides said. But Cantor’s floor team has irreplaceable institutional knowledge and contains some staffers who have worked there for years, since before Republicans gained the majority.
Cantor has continued to attend some daily leadership meetings, but for the most part McCarthy has taken over at regular meetings of committee chairmen.
McCarthy will retain the spacious first-floor office suite he currently enjoys as majority whip (although he will soon have a new plaque outside the door reflecting his changed title). That marks a return to the old office layouts — when Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio was majority leader, he occupied that office.
Over the August break, Scalise will move into Cantor’s second floor office, which is directly off of Statuary Hall. His chosen chief deputy, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, will occupy an office on the third floor above what will be Scalise’s office.
While the Cantor team — one of the most highly regarded on the Hill — helps with the transition, solicits contributions from fellow Republicans to help retire debt from the campaign and looks for jobs, the next move for their boss remains a mystery.
The Virginia lawmaker has said he will serve out the rest of his term and is still casting votes, but his Twitter accounts are quiet — his @GOPLeader account, which once buzzed with multiple tweets each day on House action, hasn’t been updated since June 30.
In one of the few interviews he’s given since his primary loss, Cantor told ABC’s Jonathan Karl just days after the defeat, “I don’t think that I want to be a lobbyist, but I do want to be — play a role in the public debate.”
Since then, Cantor — and his top staffers — have been the subjects of speculation from Wall Street to K Street and back.
Nels Olson, who runs the Washington office of recruiting firm Korn Ferry, told CQ Roll Call last month that Cantor and his his top staffers will be attractive prospects for Washington shops doing business on Capitol Hill.
“Those individuals will have an opportunity to make a transition,” Olson said.
Ivan Adler, a headhunter with the McCormick Group, said Cantor “may be the perfect candidate for K Street.”
Others have suggested that with his fundraising prowess — he raised more than $6 million and outspent his opponent dramatically in the June primary — Cantor would be an attractive choice as a successor to Reince Priebus at the Republican National Committee.
The New York Daily News reported recently that Cantor has been spotted in the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island twice since losing his race last month — once to attend a Father’s Day service at a synagogue in Westhampton Beach and again at a campaign event for Republican congressional candidate Lee Zeldin. Politico reported he is scheduled to return there in August.
Cantor’s congressional operation employs about 35 people — in his leadership, personal and district offices — with a combined 2013 payroll of $3 million, according to data compiled by LegiStorm.