LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Tomorrow afternoon, here in Washington, the House Republican Conference - that's all the members of the majority party in the house - will choose a new leader. The winner of that secret ballot will succeed Eric Cantor as majority leader at the end of the month. Cantor is stepping down early after losing his primary last week. Joining us now to talk about who will replace Cantor and what this vote means is NPR's senior editor correspondent Ron Elving. So, Ron, this usually happens after November election parties choose the whole slate of leaders. Is it going to disrupt things to do it in the middle of the term?
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Yes. It already has but then, really, the fall of Eric Cantor is still reverberating like a giant tree falling in the forest. And it's also a big disruption for these people because he was in line for the very top job in the House - that would be the speakership when John Boehner of Ohio retires. Now, that retirement could come fairly soon - some people think as soon as this winter. So this vote tomorrow was really to choose the person who will in all likelihood be the next speaker of the house. And that's meaningful because as you know, Linda, speakers have great power to run not just half of Congress, but to decide what bills even get voted on in the House. And speakers stand just behind the vice president in line of presidential succession.
WERTHEIMER: So whoever replaces Cantor is likely to be Boehner's successor maybe very soon. Who's it going to be?
ELVING: Unless the moon and all the stars fall overnight, the winner will be Kevin McCarthy of California. He's been the number three person behind Boehner and Cantor. His title is majority whip, and he's the officer who keeps the troops in line on big votes. McCarthy and his deputies round up the Republicans on every big issue and they're also the speaker's eyes and ears within the rank-and-file.
WERTHEIMER: So the whip is usually a seasoned old hand - a senior member?
ELVING: Typically, yes, that's what we would expect. But McCarthy is a relatively junior member to be in the leadership at all. He's only been in Congress for seven years and his rise to this height would be just about fastest in House history but it's been something of a pattern for him because when he was in the California State Legislature he was elected the Republican leader in his chamber the very first year he was there.
WERTHEIMER: He is from California. Is there something else we need to know about him?
ELVING: He's 49. He hails from Bakersfield, which is an energy industry town at the south end of the Central Valley - hot and dusty - more like Oklahoma, really, than Coastal California. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard both played their music in Bakersfield. And he grew up there, Kevin McCarthy did. He ran his own deli before he got into politics as an aide to the local Congressman and then he ran on his own for State Office and on to Congress.
WERTHEIMER: So where does he stand in the political spectrum in the house?
ELVING: Well he's a conservative, to be sure - but not a hardliner, more of a mainstream conservative. And he's not really known for his ideology or his brilliance on the issues or even necessarily for his tremendous success at rounding up votes on issues - that's been very difficult this particular house. He's more the kind of guy who gets around the room and gets to meet everybody, gets to know everybody and works the angles. He keeps his friends close and his enemies closer, you might say, and that's the kind of skill that makes you whip and maybe makes you speaker.
WERTHEIMER: But why aren't there other people running? Why isn't there more of a crowd for this job?
ELVING: There was a crowd. There were a number of people who were interested in it and sounded it out but most of them backed off last week as soon as they could see that McCarthy had it wired. The lone exception is a second term backbencher named Raul Labrador. He comes from Western Idaho. He was raised by a single mother in Puerto Rico. He's been an immigration lawyer and he is a Mormon and he apparently did not feel the force of McCarthy's personal charm. Beyond that, he was involved previously in an effort to rebel against Speaker Boehner and he got in the race here when the heavyweights backed off and he will attract a certain number of votes.
WERTHEIMER: So when McCarthy steps up, then who steps on to the leadership ladder in the position of whip?
ELVING: Right now, Steve Scalise of Louisiana seems to have the most votes but if he doesn't get a majority on the first vote they will have another vote. At that point Peter Roskam of Illinois may be able to consolidate his vote with that of Marlin Stutzman from Indiana and that might be enough to overcome Scalise. He would be joining Kevin McCarthy. He has been his chief deputy.
WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Ron Elving is NPR's senior editor correspondent. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.