Cantor, a seven-term Republican from Virginia, is expected to resign his post as the No. 2 party leader July 31, according to those familiar with his thinking, setting up a fresh fight between the House GOP's establishment and tea party wings for his spot.
After Cantor's shocking political tumble to a little-known challenger, Dave Brat, it would be all but impossible for him to wield any political clout among rank-and-file lawmakers, leaving him little choice but to step aside. A hastily called closed-door meeting of the GOP majority was set for late Wednesday afternoon.
As House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) tries to corral his rebellious majority, an intense scramble to fill Cantor's position was already underway Wednesday.
The No. 3 GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, is next in line for the spot, but his tenure has been beset by setbacks as he fell short of herding the rebellious conference. He "doesn't have this sewn up," said one GOP insider.
As Cantor's loss became apparent Tuesday night, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a powerful committee chairman, began dialing up lawmakers seeking their support, sources said.
A McCarthy-vs.-Sessions contest would set up a battle between representatives of two large states, California and Texas, although other lawmakers could join the mix. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the No. 4 Republican, is also said to be interested in the job.
The party's tea party wing is reportedly considering its options, with several lawmakers considering runs for the No. 3 post if McCarthy moves up.