WH: Cantor loss doesn't mean reform is dead

Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) surprise loss in Tuesday night’s GOP primary doesn't mean voters have rejected immigration reform, the White House argued Tuesday.

Cantor, the first majority leader to ever lose a primary, was upset by Tea Party challenger Dave Brat, who repeatedly accused Cantor of favoring “amnesty” for illegal immigrants on the campaign trail.

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But a pair of White House officials on Tuesday night said the primaries were actually a rebuke of Cantor’s attempt to take "both sides" on immigration reform. They noted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who participated in the Gang of Eight immigration negotiations in the Senate, had easily defeated his Tea Party challengers in his own primary.

“Cantor's problem wasn't his position on immigration reform, it was his lack of a position,” Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer tweeted. “Graham wrote and passed a bill and is winning big.” 

White house political director David Simas echoed that sentiment, noting Graham won with a “clear and principled pro-reform position.” Simas said Cantor took “both sides” on the issue. 

Cantor insisted repeatedly that he did not support amnesty during his primary campaign, although told a Richmond CBS station on Friday he wanted to work with the president on a border security bill and “something like the kids” — a reference to proposals to provide legal status for children brought to the U.S. legally.

But, Cantor said, Obama “has just insisted that it’s all or nothing — my way or the highway.”

“I oppose Senate Democrats’ comprehensive bill that offered blanket amnesty, and refuse to allow it a vote in the House,” he continued, adding, “We all know that our immigration system is broken, and we should make reforms in a step-by-step approach. We should be able to find common ground when it comes to securing the border and addressing children who did not break any laws and were brought here at no fault of their own and know no other country as home.”

Despite the White House’s spin, Cantor’s loss could spook other Republicans endanger the already dwindling chances for immigration reform legislation this session.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), an immigration reform advocate, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday he would be “speaking to my colleagues and figuring out where they are and whether this changes everything” following the vote.