WASHINGTON—It might be too little too late, but the tea party finally has its candidate.
In a week full of surprising developments, conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, on Friday afternoon announced he is launching a campaign to become the next House Majority Leader.
“I want a House leadership team that reflects the best of our conference … a leadership team that can help unite and grow our party,” Labrador said in a statement. “Americans don’t believe their leaders in Washington are listening and now is the time to change that.”
Labrador’s unexpected candidacy comes three days after college professor Dave Brat, a political newcomer, scored a huge primary upset over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.—the first majority leader defeat in American history. Less than 24 hours later, Cantor, an establishment Republican, announced he would vacate his leadership position and support Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as his replacement. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has set the election for June 19.
House conservatives said leadership used the quick turn of events to suppress any challengers, especially from the right. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas—long thought to have leadership aspirations—disappointed conservatives when he announced Thursday that he would not run for the position. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, ended his candidacy shortly after it began.
Labrador, a tea party favorite, took office in 2011—the same year Cantor became majority leader—and established himself as a strong pro-life, pro-family legislator (the Family Research Council rates him a perfect 100). Last year he introduced the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide conscience protection on the issue of same-sex marriage. Labrador, an immigration attorney, also crafted a reputation as perhaps the House GOP’s most knowledgeable member on immigration.
Labrador, one of 12 Republicans to vote against Boehner for speaker last year, called Cantor’s defeat stunning but said the message it sent is clear: “Americans are looking for a change in the status quo.”
Yet his candidacy may be largely symbolic: McCarthy, an establishment Republican who some consider less conservative than Cantor, started whipping up votes to replace the majority leader Tuesday night. He has likely already secured enough support to win.
Conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.—another one of the 12 who voted against Boehner last year—told me Labrador would do a “fantastic job” and his diverse background and ability to negotiate would help Republicans in the fall elections. Huelskamp said he was pleased that Boehner didn’t appoint Cantor’s replacement: “That, to me, is a sign that folks are dissatisfied and looking for new leadership. … We have not had a conservative in leadership for the last 3 1/2 years.”
Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Peter Roskam of Illinois, and Marlin A. Stutzman of Indiana are vying to replace McCarthy as the third-ranking Republican in the House.