By Jonathan Easley - 04/05/12 08:19 PM EDT
After clashing repeatedly last year, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and President Obama made nice on Thursday as Obama signed Cantor’s JOBS Act into law.
The relationship between Cantor and Obama has been rocky, and reached a low point during last summer’s debt-ceiling negotiations, when Obama reportedly warned Cantor to not “call my bluff.”
Obama praised the measure as “exactly the kind of bipartisan action we should be taking in Washington to help our economy” and signed the bill with 11 ceremonial pens, one for each letter of his name.
Cantor stood directly behind Obama for the signing, and said in a statement he hoped it was a sign of things to come.
“We have a very difficult economic situation still,” Cantor said. “The president said today that he has always believed that it is the private sector that is the job generator in this country. I agree with him. I think most Americans agree with him."
The president was joined on stage by Cantor and four other Republicans: Reps. Spencer Bachus (Ala.), Patrick McHenry (N.C.) and Scott Garrett (N.J.), along with Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.). Democratic Reps. John Larson (Conn.), John Carney (Del.) and Terri Sewell (Ala.) were also on hand, as was D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Twice during the signing Obama made quiet comments that drew laughter from the lawmakers on stage, including Cantor.
The president ruffled some feathers by backing Cantor’s bill, putting himself at odds with consumer activists, union leaders and some members of his own party.
The measure is aimed at making it easier for small businesses to access credit or go public, but some Democrats — including Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip — argued it goes too far in deregulating Wall Street.
Despite the concerns of some Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) followed Obama’s cue and fast-tracked the legislation through the Senate after it passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 380 to 41.
Last week, Cantor told The Hill he hopes the president and congressional leaders will work together more frequently over the next several months.
“I hope it’s that all of us are looking toward driving toward results and looking toward solutions. We all know there are plenty of differences between the two sides in Washington,” he said.
But bipartisan legislation is unlikely during a high-stakes election year where even ceremonial bill-signings, like Thursday’s, have become a source of political friction.
Republicans have grumbled over the decreased frequency of
the bill-signing events, arguing the president is avoiding them to avoid
calling attention to Congress’s achievements while running against an
obstructionist, “do-nothing” Legislative Branch.
Republicans argue that a number of recent bipartisan achievements, such as the reauthorization of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and the passage of three trade deals last fall, were worthy of the honor.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has not attended a bill signing at the White House since taking the gavel from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last year.
The White House has said that there is no concerted effort to bury bipartisan accomplishments, and said the signing events are dictated by the president’s schedule.
On Wednesday, again flanked by members of both parties, the president signed into law the STOCK Act, making Thursday’s event the second one this week, although it’s only the third of 2012.
In February, the president signed former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s (D-Ariz.) final piece of legislation, passed before she resigned to concentrate on rehabilitation from wounds suffered in a Tucson shooting spree last year.
Asked about the infrequency of signing ceremonies on Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said “there are a lot of moving pieces” in terms of schedules, and that the administration couldn’t assume Republicans in Congress wanted to participate in such events.
Plus, Carney said, Republicans had never before seemed “eager to appear next to the president.”