WASHINGTON (AP) - Repudiated at the polls, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor intends to resign his leadership post at the end of next month, officials said Wednesday, clearing the way for a potentially disruptive Republican shake-up just before midterm elections with control of Congress at stake.
Cantor was expected to announce his plans at a late-afternoon meeting of the party's rank and file, less than 24 hours after the Virginia Republican lost a primary election to David Brat, a little-known and underfunded rival backed by tea party groups.
Lawmakers in both parties said the majority leader's defeat and the prospect of a change within the Republican high command probably signal the demise of immigration legislation along the lines President Barack Obama is seeking and will also have a negative impact on the balance of his second-term agenda.
Even so, White House spokesman Josh Earnest disputed the notion that Cantor's surprise loss crushed the prospects of House Republican leaders putting an immigration bill on the floor this year. He noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had been deeply involved in passing the Senate immigration bill and still defeated his primary opponents Tuesday night.
Cantor also has been deeply involved in GOP attempts to develop an alternative to the health care law that Republicans want to repeal.
Before the announcement, jockeying already had broken out among fellow Republicans eager to move up the House leadership ladder or establish a foothold on it.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the party whip and third-ranking leader, informed fellow Republicans he intended to run to succeed Cantor, and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas also made clear his interest.
Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, the chief deputy whip, and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana quickly jumped into the expected race to succeed McCarthy.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. and the party's 2012 vice presidential candidate, ruled out a leadership race. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a prominent Texas conservative, issued a statement saying he was "prayerfully considering the best way" to serve.
Cantor's office declined to confirm his decision, which was reported by numerous Republican aides as well as lobbyists who said they had been informed of the plans. His intention was to declare his decision to step down from the leadership on July 31.
One Republican said he feared the effects of Cantor's defeat could be debilitating for the party and the government.
Interviewed on MSNBC, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he was worried that Cantor's stunning loss may lead to even more congressional gridlock. Asked if he thought immigration legislation was dead, he replied, "I'm concerned that Ted Cruz supporters, Rand Paul supporters, are going to use this as an excuse" to shut down the government.
"This is not conservatism to me," King said. "Shutting down the government is not being conservative."
The resignation would mark a swift end to a quick rise to power for Cantor, 51, who was elected to Congress in 2000, was appointed to the leadership two years later, and then rose steadily to become the second-most powerful Republican in the House.