Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

Pete Sessions Drops Out of Majority Leader Race, Clearing Way for Kevin McCarthy (Updated)

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions in his office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

Related stories:

Cantor Quake Sets of GOP Leadership Fights

Leadership Shuffle Begins After Cantor Shocker

Dave Brat: 11 Things to Know

Republican Senate Primary Challengers Jump on Eric Cantor Loss

Eric Cantor’s Defeat Was in the Immigration Tea Leaves

10 Republicans Who Could Be Speaker

Get breaking news alerts from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

  • Jazzy

    It’s because Sessions called extended unemployment immoral, it’s all over the news today. Even though GOP is against EUC, they don’t want Sessions bad PR to ruin their fragile political positioning. FRAGILE is polite, more like wavering or crumbling.

    • Layla

      Both sides are doing this, Jazzy. In the last elections, millions stayed home. They must all come out to vote if we are to elect a new Congress who will stop forcing federal mandates on us and bring back the jobs.

      BOTH sides are in bed with the US Chamber and that’s got to stop.

  • JetsFan1984

    He surrendered to a liberal. Vote him out. Texas got bullied by California.

    • Jazzy

      Haaa, yep, vote em’ out of Texas! Get ya’ll a real conservative who will continue to oppress you, deregulate ur industries, and tell you to do what any Texan would do, and stand as one.

      • Layla

        Jazzy, I know you are upset, but Texas is the one place where it is easy to get a good job and it’s reasonable to live there. The people are incredibly polite and welcoming and the schools are the best. Calm down and think rationally.

  • Forums4Justice

    Kevin McCarthy @GOPWhip is on the list of House Republican Legalization Amnesty Pukes


    • Layla

      Interesting that he wants amnesty because he does not seem to mind the Sheriffs deputies in his district killing Hispanics and getting away with murder. No FBI investigation, no nothing. This is going on in many places in California. These poor families. If you are arrested by Kern Country Sheriff’s deputies you are likely to be beaten to death or die in the back seat of a cruiser. The death toll there is 5-6, I believe, in the last year. Also, Kevin does not have an opponent. You will have to vote for: no one.

  • sue kelly

    GOP food fight – Leader candidates tear each other apart behind closed doors. So what else isn’t new on Capitol Hill? Throw ALL the bums out!

    • Layla

      Hope so, Sue. We really hope so.

  • Jazzy

    GOPpers, do you moderate?

  • Rumionemore

    This move will chap some back sides. There are many Dems and media who would love to see a shoot-out in the GOP, but Sessions withdrawing indicates this is not going to happen.

    • Layla

      Staying on this track, the GOP are going to lose the House.

      • Rumionemore

        Why do you think so?
        As of now the Repubs seem to have the momentum and the numbers. From what I read and hear, even Dem pundits and others whose living is based on making accurate predictions on the political scene believe not only will they keep the House but have a good chance of grabbing the Senator.

        • Layla

          Momentum where? If the House Majority Leader, a popular guy, gets slammed so badly by his own voters, people who ADMIT he previously had their support, you are blind to the feelings and opinions of the American public. Stupidly, Republicans have sat back, offering no resistance to the President, not keeping their promises to defund Obamacare and now supporting amnesty thinking they would be sure winners. That’s the height of arrogance.

          Sorry, they are wrong. I strongly suggest you walk precincts in your districts. You will be amazed at how the people feel and you are WRONG. Every bailout, every waiver has gone to big business while the American people don’t even get crumbs. They watch the IRS scandal and nothing happens. They see the VA killing our veterans and nothing changes. Our borders are now being overrun and nothing is being said or being done. The November losses on both sides are going to be huge. ASK YOUR CONSTITUENTS.

          • Rumionemore

            The GOP is still expected to do well in the fall elections because of the demographics of voters who turn out. Even liberal pundits and journalists are predicting this. Things can change, of course. The Cantor Effect should worry elected officials, but he is not the typical candidate in that he was more aligned with national GOP leadership than with local. This doesn’t apply to most candidates in either party. In two weeks no one will be talking about Cantor.

            I totally agree with your frustration and anger.
            Many Americans do feel this, but there is a phenomenon now in that a growing number of voters don’t pay income taxes. Many others who, for whatever reason, are unemployed. They are not as invested as those who do fund the government and probably are more likely to vote for their own interests – more of the same. The candidate who makes the promises, although he or she may have no intention of delivering, will be elected or re-elected. No one is willing to right what is wrong with our country, which will continue to see joblessness or under-employment for a growing underclass that has no education or training to find success in today’s workplace. We can’t continue to raise the minimum wage for burger flippers. Soon their places of employment will be closing their doors. We need a long-range fix that no politician wants to deal with.

  • mikem42

    He says the people demand and deserve the conservative agenda. Does he not know that the last two elections say otherwise. And the polls overwhelmingly differ with his statement. This country deserves to move forward in a positive and progressive way, not a negative and constant fear and warlike way. We deserve better leadership than him and his ilk, regardless of party affiliation.

    • Layla

      Your present leader needs to be impeached. Let’s see what the American people have to say in November, shall we? Or is your leader planning on suspending elections?

      • mikem42

        You’re a freaking fruitcake and a troll of the worst kind. You can’t drag the whole country down because of your bigotry. But, I’m sure you will keep trying.

        • Layla

          I disagree with your opinion, so you resort to name calling. That isn’t going to win the Democrats any converts. As poorly as Republicans are doing, if you offered a viable option, Americans would be coming to you in droves. But because of the way you behave, the name calling, the hate, you are losing voters. Keep it up, please.

    • Layla

      Trust NO POLLS, pollsters get PAID BY POLITICIANS. Let’s ask the people who they trust more, the progs or the Constitution?

      • mikem42

        Hmmm, let’s ask the people, you mean POLL them? All polls are not created equal, and some are rather reliable and non-partisan. As for the Constitution, well, it’s kind of like the Bible, isn’t it? Interpret it to suit your view

        • Layla

          No, I mean walk the precincts and TALK TO THE PEOPLE. I remember when Congress used to care about that. They are NOT interested in socialism, Mike. They have NO JOBS. Many are still losing homes. NOBODY in this government is helping the American people. Young people will not support more of this because they, too, can’t get jobs or must work part time due to Obamacare. They see global warming legislation in Congress getting ready to eliminate more jobs and jack up our fuel prices even more. American families can’t pay their bills, Mike.

          How can you possibly call this success?

          Recently I walked precincts for a very popular freshman Republican. We were using his “safe” lists. The surprise came when most couldn’t remember voting for him last time, didn’t know what he’s been doing. We soon decided to walk the entire neighborhood. Young people asked, “what party is he”? When we answered Republican, they said, “I will support him.” The same was happening with minorities.

          What is happening here is that the voters are switching sides due to their anger at what is happening in this country and Congress is too arrogant to see that. BIG MISTAKE. People have to eat, to be able to live, Mike. We can’t all be on welfare. People want to work and everything Congress comes up with is a jobs killer.

          There is a new phrase in the neighborhoods……”Let’s Cantorize them”.

    • Layla

      The Constitution guarantees freedom for all. The only one using fear and intimidation in this country is the administration. One side is encouraging that and the other does nothing. Neither is acceptable.

  • daddyoyo

    So, let’s review. Tea baggers got rid of Cantor because he was too moderate and replaced him with a Theocrat. However, it now looks as if his position as majority whip will be filled by the even more moderate McCarthy. I love the sound of the Republican circular firing squad in the morning. It smells like……..VICTORY,
    for Democrats that is.

    • Layla

      The “baggers”, aka THE AMERICAN PEOPLE got rid of Cantor because of his support for the US Chamber, amnesty and his non support of them. McCarthy needs to go for the same reason.

      I wouldn’t count my chickens on the Democrats if I were you. Sad, isn’t it, when the base of both sides are deserting to join the Independent Party…


  • Layla

    Ask Kevin why he won’t call for an FBI investigation of the Hispanic
    killings going on in his Congressional district by Kern County Sheriff’s
    deputies and elsewhere in California. 5 to 6 have died in the custody
    of Kern County Sheriff’s in the past year and Kevin will not help their
    families by calling for an investigation.

    Not one of these families have been able to get through to the FBI. Not ONE.

    Hispanic Americans, ALL Americans are NOT going to tolerate these killings.
    California has a Democrat Governor who also will not help.

    VOTE CONGRESS OUT, BOTH SIDES. End the killings and corruption in this country.

  • Haymitch Abernathy

    Though some of the West’s success has been due to its accumulated capital, a greater factor has been the liberty that unleashes its citizens’ ingenuity, knowledge, and courage.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...