Kevin McCarthy elected to replace Eric Cantor as House majority leader

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), leaves a meeting of the House Republican conference June 18, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Win McNamee, Getty Images

Last Updated Jun 19, 2014 4:10 PM EDT

House Republicans on Thursday elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California to replace Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia as House majority leader, following Cantor's stunning primary defeat last week to a conservative challenger. McCarthy emerged as the favorite to replace Cantor shortly after Cantor announced he would step down as majority leader in July, months before his term expires.

As majority leader, McCarthy is now the second-ranking Republican in the House, behind Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The majority leader is responsible for operational decisions such as when the House will be in session and what bills make it to the House floor. The majority leader must also often negotiate with Democrats, leaving the Republican in that role vulnerable to criticism from the right, as Cantor learned the hard way. McCarthy is a reliable conservative but has taken a more moderate stance on immigration reform.

McCarthy defeated Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a tea party-backed congressman who jumped into the majority leader contest this week. The House GOP didn't provide a final vote tally.

The House GOP also elected Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, to replace McCarthy as House Republican whip.

The job of whip involves surveying party members to gauge the level of support for pieces of legislation. After the speaker and majority leader get behind a bill, it can be up to the whip to round up support for it. The role is strategically valuable for conservatives, since the whip has leverage to push back against an agenda the right wing of the party may not like.