Sessions drops out of GOP leadership race, clearing way for McCarthy

Sessions drops out of GOP leadership race, clearing way for McCarthy
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) at a committee meeting in May. Sessions on Thursday took himself out of the running to be the next House majority leader. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The last remaining major rival to Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy in the race for House majority leader dropped out of contention late Thursday, clearing the way for the conservative from Bakersfield to assume the House’s second-ranking position.

In a statement, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas said he was quitting the race because he feared going forward would divide the party.

"After thoughtful consideration and discussion with my colleagues, I have made the decision to not continue my run for House majority leader," Sessions said in a statement.

"Today, it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party. At this critical time, we must remain unified as a Republican Conference. As always, I stand ready and willing to work with our team to advance the conservative agenda that the American people demand and deserve."

Members of the tea party wing of the GOP have been unenthusiastic about McCarthy, 49, who holds the No. 3 position in the leadership. Despite his conservative voting record, he is seen as too close to the party’s establishment wing. Some members also argued that the House GOP needs a leadership that reflects its strength in the South. Currently, all the members of the leadership come from states that President Obama carried in the last two elections.

But the insurgents were unable to coalesce behind a single candidate who could overcome McCarthy's advantages in the race. Several prominent conservatives declined to challenge him, and he quickly won the support of others.

McCarthy, the House majority whip, was heir apparent to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose ‎surprise defeat this week in his primary bid for reelection touched off the leadership struggle. 

The election for the new majority leader is set for next week.‎

A conservative challenger from the GOP's tea party flank could still emerge. But now most of the jockeying in the House ranks will turn to the fight over who will replace McCarthy. That is likely to be a showdown pitting Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, the chief deputy whip, against two members from red states.