House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions in his office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 9:49 p.m. | Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas has dropped out of the race to replace Eric Cantor as majority leader, helping clear a path for Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California to ascend to the No. 2 post in the House.
Sessions stressed party unity in a statement to CQ Roll Call.
“After thoughtful consideration and discussion with my colleagues, I have made the decision to not continue my run for House Majority Leader. 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.”
McCarthy was heavily favored to beat Sessions in the race, quickly lining up support while the Texas delegation wrangled over whether to back Sessions or Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling.
Hensarling announced Thursday morning that he wouldn’t be running for the position.
A group of conservative lawmakers told CQ Roll Call Thursday they still wanted an alternative candidate to McCarthy — and Sessions for that matter — and were expecting to announce one soon.
When CQ Roll Call raised the possibility of Raúl R. Labrador, one lawmaker in the group called it “an astute guess.”
A source familiar with Labrador’s thinking said a lot of members were encouraging the Idaho Republican to run for the position.
But any bids at this point would be very long shots at best — and the focus will now turn to the wide open races down ballot — especially for McCarthy’s whip job.
Sessions’ campaign started just hours after Cantor’s stunning primary loss Tuesday to Dave Brat.
Sessions, who has a deep contact list from his two stints as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was texting members past 2 a.m., asking for their early support.
By Wednesday, he was the first candidate officially in the race to be majority leader, and he was already looking to cast himself as the conservative alternative to McCarthy, who had not announced his candidacy for Majority Leader but was all-but-certain to jump in the race as soon as Cantor announced his resignation.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon in his Rules Committee office, Sessions told CQ Roll Call that he already had a whip team, and he was already lining up commitments.
But looming over his candidacy was Hensarling, who was largely seen as a more conservative and viable opponent to McCarthy.
Sessions made it clear from the outset that he had no interest in squaring off against his fellow Texan.
“Certainly,” Sessions said of Hensarling Wednesday afternoon, “it’s not in our best interest to run against each other.”
The Texas GOP delegation, a close-knit group which operates more like a family, decided to hold a meeting Wednesday night to discuss the race. Both Sessions and Hensarling said their piece, and members left it up to them to decide who would run.
But by Thursday morning, Hensarling had decided it was not the “right office at the right time,” clearing the way for Sessions to be the Texas candidate.
Sessions went before a group of Southern Republicans to make his pitch, and his campaign was in full swing.
Still, speculation swirled throughout the Capitol that Sessions might still step aside. McCarthy was piling up commitments, and his ascension to the Majority Leader post looked imminent.
Sessions stayed positive, however. He met with his fellow Texans at their weekly Thursday lunch, and his fellow Texans emerged from their lunch of Tortilla Coast and Blue Bell ice cream swearing monolithic support for Sessions.
“Pete Sessions is running for Majority Leader, and I think Pete Sessions will be the next Majority Leader,” said the delegation’s dean, Joe L. Barton.
When a reporter asked him if all 24 Texas Republicans would be voting for Sessions, Barton declared that question “asinine.”
In Barton’s mind, there was no question that they would all support Sessions.
As the day went on, however, the math looked worse for Sessions. McCarthy continued to collect votes, with allies claiming the California Republican already had a majority of the conference solidly swearing their support.
Sessions began to see the writing on the wall. And, according to his staff, ever the good Eagle Scout, Sessions sought unity over division, and he didn’t think his continued presence in the race would help the party.
He decided to call it quits.
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