LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
House Republicans have elected a new majority leader. As expected, Kevin McCarthy of California, currently the third-ranked Republican in the House, easily prevailed. And Steve Scalise of Louisiana won the fight to replace McCarthy as majority whip. The leadership shuffle followed last week's unexpected primary defeat of the previous majority leader, Eric Cantor. NPR's Ailsa Chang takes a look at the frenzied, 10-day contest to fill the newly vacated positions.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Over the last week, much of Washington has been obsessed with Thursday's House leadership election. But to a lot of Americans, one question might have come to mind.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ELECTION")
JESSICA CAMPBELL, BYLINE: (As Tammy Metzler) Who cares about this stupid election?
CHANG: A fair question uttered by the character Tammy Metzler, in the movie "Election" a cult classic about a fictional high school election.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ELECTION")
CAMPBELL: (As Tammy Metzler) The only promises that I will make is that, if elected, I will immediately dismantle the student government so that none of us will ever had to sit through one of these stupid assemblies again.
CONGRESSMAN RICHARD HUDSON: Well, I did suggest to Roskam that the slogan should be, if you like me, I'll make all your dreams come true.
CHANG: That's Republican Richard Hudson of North Carolina. He tried but failed to get Peter Roskam of Illinois elected to be the number three Republican in the House hierarchy. You know how they say everything goes back to high school? Well, Hudson says Thursday's House leadership election is a perfect example.
HUDSON: Because in a high school everybody knows each other, so you know you're not kidding anybody. You're not going to go in there and say, I'm someone who I'm not. It's different than when you put your name on a ballot and you go try to introduce yourself to the public.
CHANG: No, instead in a House leadership election, just like in high school, the fight inevitably devolves into a popularity contest. Kevin McCarthy won the majority leader election setting himself on a path to be speaker largely by relying on the relationships he had already built as a member of the House's inner circle. And Steve Scalise of Louisiana took over McCarthy's old job in large part because bedrock conservatives, especially the sizable Southern contingent, wanted to see someone in their click win a top spot. Oh, and his communications director, T.J. Tatum, pointed out that Scalise had great paraphernalia, too, -stickers and T-shirts that read, "Geaux with Scalise", with go spelled G, E, A, U, X.
T.J. TATUM: I believe it is the Cajun or Creole spelling of the play on the sound of E, A, U, X.
CHANG: And there were lofty promises made by the candidates, too. Instead of pledges to cancel finals or get rid of homework, the House candidates may have promised other things equally hard to guarantee. Walter Jones of North Carolina asked the three whip contenders if they'd make sure bills got to the floor through the regular committee process, rather than at the whim of the current speaker John Boehner.
CONGRESSMAN WALTER JONES: Would you - if you get in this position would you challenge the speaker? And of course all three said, yes.
CHANG: And other Southern lawmakers like Jeff Duncan of South Carolina got the whip candidates to promise there'd be more committee chairmanships for Southerners, even though the whip has little to say about that.
CONGRESSMAN JEFF DUNCAN: Southern states would like to see an equitable distribution of committee chairmanships. You know, we're a large - we're one-third of the conference, and so there ought to be an equitable representation.
CHANG: But going back to Tammy Metzler's question - who cares about this stupid election? Well, a lot of people do, people who pay attention to what Congress says and does. And for lawmakers like John Fleming of Louisiana, this election nudged the leadership a little closer to the most conservative side of the house.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN FLEMING: Really the conference has gradually moved since 2010 to the right, and our leadership has been the same. So this is again a gradual movement of our leadership to follow the Congress.
CHANG: The new leadership team takes over when Cantor's resignation becomes official July 31. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.
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