After 2014 passes, Eric Cantor will no longer represent the 7th Congressional district in Virginia. But after July passes, he will also no longer serve as majority leader of the House of Representatives—a crucial position, and one in which he has used to considerably influence national policy.
As Chris Hayes pointed out last night on All In, Cantor was the chief advocate for driving a 2011 debt-ceiling showdown and the severe austerity measures that resulted. That’s not to say it was his sole prerogative; Cantor was advocating on behalf of a coalition of far-right Tea Party lawmakers who desperately wanted a showdown with the White House. But inside the leadership offices on Capitol Hill, it was Cantor who made sure that Speaker John Boehner heard and reacted to their concerns. As the number-two Republican in the House, he served as a conservative sword of Damocles over Boehner’s head: cross the conservatives too much, and they just might replace Boehner as Speaker with Cantor.
In addition, the majority leader’s considerable influence over the House gives that person unique power to make sure his or her top donors received what they want. In Cantor’s case, it meant Wall Street had an even stronger voice on Capitol Hill.
As of Thursday, only two candidates have emerged to take Cantor’s place: Representatives Kevin McCarthy and Pete Sessions. It’s useful to take a look at the political backgrounds and pet issues of both to see what direction the House might be headed post-Cantor.
Representative Kevin McCarthy
District: California’s 23rd
In Congress since: 2007
Biggest Contributors: Pharmaceutical and Health Product PACs contributed the most to his campaign committee; for individual donations, a plurality were from the securities and investment industry.
McCarthy is to some extent an empty vessel; he rose very quickly through California state politics. After stints with the California Young Republicans in the 1990s, he went on to work for Representative Bill Thomas, a congressional powerhouse who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee. Thomas was a titan for the pharmaceutical industry and helped get the Medicare Part D drug benefit passed; the ties McCarthy developed during this time are likely why he maintains high financial support from drug companies.
McCarthy left that office to run for California State Assembly, and won a seat in 2002. He quickly became assembly Republican leader, a theme throughout his career—he seems to excel most at internal politicking and obtaining caucus leadership posts. As Ryan Grim and Ashley Alman wrote at The Huffington Post, “There isn’t much to dislike about McCarthy, unless you’re annoyed with empty ambition.”