June 18, 2014

Washington, D.C.

The House majority whip is headquartered on the first floor of the U.S. Capitol, steps from where British soldiers poured into the building in 1814 and ransacked the place.

The whip's job is to ensure such chaos doesn't erupt from inside the building.

The warren of offices buzz with activity as the whip, his dozens of deputies and a large staff keep track of the positions, moods and whims of the House Republican Conference.

On vote nights, cartons of catered food are shuttled in and out as the whip feeds the GOP troops and maybe seals the deal on a difficult vote over a slice of pepperoni pizza.

The whip counts votes and delivers votes.

This particular leader, because of the nature of his job, usually knows the Republican Conference better than anyone else in the leadership.

That's why the current whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, almost certainly will be elected majority leader by his Republican colleagues on Thursday.

Republicans who built their careers out of the whip's office have a history of moving up to spiffier office space on the Capitol's second and third floors.

Most famously, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) ascended from chief deputy whip directly to the speakership.

As chief deputy whip, Hastert was a fixer who took on leadership's must difficult tasks; as speaker he was a conciliator who kept the party's often fractious wings flapping in the same direction.

Roy Blunt, now a senator from Missouri, served as chief deputy, majority whip and then as majority leader for a short time.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who holds the job for a few more hours, also rose from chief deputy whip to majority whip to his current position.

He was seen as a shoo-in to succeed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at some point, and become the first Jewish speaker of the House.

But all of that history and Cantor's impressive institutional knowledge didn't help him last Tuesday, when Republican primary voters in Virginia's seventh district dumped him in favor of the tea party's newest hero, Dave Brat.

Enter Mr. McCarthy from California, who is set to follow that familiar path: chief deputy, majority whip, majority leader.

That doesn't please Rep. Steve King of Iowa's fourth district. But it's a good bet that McCarthy, not King, knows where the votes are in the Republican Conference.

King's problem is he doesn't seem to have a horse in the majority leader race.

So far, McCarthy's only rival for the post is Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho.

Labrador is trying to position himself as the conservative alternative to McCarthy, but in King's view, both are amnesty-favoring sellouts on immigration.

Labrador has some pretty solid conservative credentials: He voted against reopening the government during the shutdown, opposed funding for an Obama administration initiative aimed at children brought into the United States illegally, and even voted against Boehner for speaker, The Hill newspaper reported.

None of that is good enough for King, who believes Labrador would support immigration reform next year or at some future date.

Labrador for a time was part of a series of bipartisan talks, held in secret, to explore the possibility of finding a compromise on immigration.

He also expressed his disgust over some of the vivid language King has used to describe illegal immigrants.

So Mr. Labrador need not come asking for King's support.

King has been tweeting that a true conservative opponent of immigration reform should enter the race, so far with no takers.

"Wanted: Applicants for Majority Leader, US House who have record opposing amnesty. Come see me. 2nd request. No qualified applicants, yet," King tweeted on Friday.

King won't run for the position itself, it seems. He would probably max out with 25 votes, at best, among the 233 House Republicans.

Cantor's rather modest support for immigration reform has been cited as a key factor in his defeat, though Cantor himself dismisses that explanation.

Regardless, King spied an opportunity to nail the coffin lid shut on immigration reform by choosing a new leader who shares his view on the issue.

Instead, he's going to get McCarthy, who probably is more amenable to a substantial immigration overhaul than Cantor ever was.