A White House legislative agenda that was on life support saw the plug pulled with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat.
White House allies said the reverberations from the Virginia Republican’s loss will make it even harder for President Obama to find GOP lawmakers to work with on Capitol Hill, and predicted other Republicans will be scared to death of engaging with the White House.
“It’s bad news for the president,” said one former senior administration official.
Cantor’s decision to step down from leadership paves the way for the Tea Party to exert even greater influence within the Republican caucus, officials said.
While there is “no affection for Eric Cantor” in the White House, a second former senior administration official said, Obama is worried about the negative policy implications with his defeat.
The White House on Wednesday played down any impact.
Senior administration officials said Cantor had been uncooperative on a number of policy issues, and that it would be hard to imagine his successor — no matter how conservative — would be more problematic.
One senior administration official said that while Washington is treating the news as a political earthquake, Cantor’s resignation wouldn’t make matters better or worse.
The official noted that the existing GOP leadership already wouldn’t compromise on politically beneficial presidential priorities like student loans and pre-K education. The White House has adopted its so-called “pen and phone” strategy, the official said, because it expected obstructionism from Republicans in Congress.
Democratic strategist Doug Thornell, a former aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), said opinions of Cantor among top Democrats were mixed, at best.
“There’s a good portion of House Democrats and people inside of the White House who didn’t trust him, who didn’t think he was a guy who shot straight with them,” Thornell said.
“On issues, there was almost universal disagreement with him,” he added. “As a good-faith negotiator, I think opinions were mixed. The perception was he could channel the base of the party a little bit better than [Speaker] Boehner and might have been more in touch with the Tea Party wing of the party. Which is ironic, considering he was defeated by that wing of the party.”
Though they don’t think Cantor’s fall will help Obama’s agenda, those in the White House were eager to tie his loss to what they view as GOP obstructionism and dysfunction.
“I do think that this outcome does provide some evidence to indicate that the strategy of opposing nearly everything and supporting hardly anything is not just a bad governing strategy, it is not a very good political strategy either,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “That is why the president has pursued a different approach.”
White House officials said Obama would continue to make the case against GOP obstructionism in the lead-up to the midterm elections.
While one senior administration official argued that immigration reform is “Deadsville” given the Cantor result, Earnest argued against the conventional wisdom that Obama’s No. 1 legislative priority is now dead.
Earnest argues that Cantor campaigned aggressively against immigration reform, so he said he wasn’t sure how people could reach the conclusion that Cantor’s defeat was a blow to the issue.
“It is the view of the White House that there is support all across the country for common-sense bipartisan immigration reform,” said Earnest, who echoed other Democrats in highlighting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) Tuesday night primary victory. Graham helped negotiate the immigration bill approved by the Senate last year.
“You would be hard-pressed to name a constituency more conservative than those who cast ballots [in] South Carolina,” said Earnest, who credited Graham for making a “persuasive case why comprehensive immigration reform was the right thing for the country.”