Eric Cantor, who lost the GOP Virginia primary to a Tea Party candidate, said Wednesday he will step down as House majority leader, AFP reported.
"While I intend to serve out my term as a member of Congress from the 7th District of Virginia, effective July 31st I will be stepping down as majority leader," Cantor told reporters a day after the loss to economics professor Dave Brat.
The move sets off a scramble for the number two post in the House Republican leadership, just as lawmakers crank up their campaigns ahead of November's mid-term congressional elections.
Shortly before addressing reporters, Cantor broke his news to the Republican caucus in a closed-door conference in the U.S. Capitol basement, where lawmakers said House Speaker John Boehner wept as he praised his outgoing deputy.
An internal election to fill the vacuum will take place June 19, said Congressman Tim Huelskamp, who wants to see a conservative win the post.
Cantor was already seen as a conservative leader, but the Tea Party-fueled far-right wing of the caucus is aiming to bring in new blood that could help draw leadership even more to the right.
The outgoing chieftain, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, said Washington was too divided and called for his party to unite, particularly in opposition to President Barack Obama's controversial health care law.
"Truly, what divides Republicans pales in comparison to what divides us as conservatives from the left and their Democratic Party," Cantor said, according to AFP.
Cantor lost to Dave Brat, an economics professor and political novice whose victory is seen as a huge victory for the Tea Party movement, which supported Cantor just a few years ago.
Brat had cast Cantor as a Washington insider who isn't conservative enough.
Lawmakers have floated three main names as potential Cantor replacements: Kevin McCarthy, who is in line as the chamber's number three Republican, Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
"I would say that it's wide open," House Republican Phil Gingrey told AFP.
Cantor said he would back McCarthy if he chose to run for the job.