WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, a former aide elected to Congress less than eight years ago, won election as House majority leader Thursday as fellow Republicans shuffled their leadership in the wake of Rep. Eric Cantor's primary defeat in Virginia.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, 48, was elected to replace McCarthy as whip as the rank and file opted to put a red-state Republican at the leadership table.
McCarthy, 49, triumphed over Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho to continue his extraordinarily rapid rise through the ranks. The totals of the secret ballot election were not immediately disclosed.
The changes take effect when Cantor steps down as majority leader July 31. Cantor attended the day's elections but did not speak.
Whatever the results of the elections, the challenges facing the leadership aren't likely to change.
Within moments of McCarthy's election, the League of United Latin American Citizens issued a statement calling on him to schedule a vote in the House on legislation to overhaul immigration law, including a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
The issue has long divided Republicans and figured prominently in Cantor's defeat a little more a week ago, when he was upset by David Brat, a little-known, underfunded tea party-backed challenger.
In setting quick elections, Speaker John Boehner and other leaders hoped to avoid a drawn-out, divisive struggle that might have complicated the party's drive to retain its majority in midterm balloting Nov. 4.
Yet the timing of the day's events made it unclear whether the winners — or perhaps Boehner himself — might face fresh challenges when the rank and file gathers in the fall after national elections.
McCarthy moved quickly to line up the votes for majority leader after Cantor's defeat at the polls in Virginia, deploying an organization developed since he became whip more than three years ago, when Republicans took control of the House.
McCarthy was first elected to Congress in 2006, after first serving as an aide to Rep. Bill Thomas of California.
Cantor named McCarthy chief deputy whip in 2009 and he became whip after Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 elections.