By Molly K. Hooper and Bob Cusack - 06/08/09 08:35 PM EDT
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) says he has requested to meet privately with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this year, but has been repeatedly rebuffed.
In an interview with The Hill, the minority whip said, “I have been told that Speaker Pelosi doesn’t like to meet with Republicans … I would say that is the case in my instance. I have put in requests to meet with her and have yet to be responded to.”
Hours later, Cantor would be on the House floor, questioning whether the Speaker should continue to receive intelligence briefings.
In his floor comments, Cantor grilled Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), claiming that Pelosi should no longer receive briefings in the wake of her accusation that the CIA lied to her about the use of torture in 2003.
The Hoyer-Cantor exchange became testy, with Hoyer asserting that he is confounded by Cantor’s logic, calling it “incomprehensible.”
Pelosi’s office did not comment for this article.
He gets under the skin of congressional Democrats effectively, whether it be on tax policies, climate change or the International Monetary Fund. Love him or hate him, Cantor keeps the pressure on the majority party.
As a result, five months into his leadership job, Cantor has become a prime target for the left. With Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the back nine of his political career, liberals have gone after the 46-year-old Cantor, labeling him “Mr. No.”
Cantor says he knows it comes with the territory: “Who said this thing was easy? ... There is give and take, there is room for public discourse and sometimes it gets a little more vehement than other times, and that’s what’s to be expected.”
Few, if any, political analysts believe that Republicans will retake the House next year. But Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, is undeterred: “We’ve got a shot of taking back this House. … I think that prospect is largely based on the American people’s desire for a check and balance of power here in Washington. When you’ve got a situation where there’s an unfettered ability to run the table and the direction in which they’re heading is far outside the mainstream, I think that that creates an environment for Republican takeover in the House.”
There has been friction between Cantor and Boehner in the 111th Congress, but Cantor laughs off the “palace intrigue.”
“John Boehner and I have a great relationship,” Cantor said, adding, “We’re together; we’re a team.”
Cantor scored a huge win earlier this year when he rallied the entire GOP conference against the $787 billion economic stimulus package. Cantor acknowledges it was not easy, but he won over skeptical GOP lawmakers by mastering the details of the legislation.
Unlike former GOP Whip Tom DeLay (Texas), Cantor favors reason over strong-arm tactics.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who has bucked Republican leaders on many high-profile issues, said, “Eric will try to get you to rethink your position, but he respects your opinion when you tell him your mind is made up.”
“I have always found him to be very reasonable,” Jones said. “That’s the kind of image this party needs.”
Cantor has experienced bumps in the road in 2009. After his colleagues in leadership called the AIG bonus bill “a sham,” Cantor unexpectedly voted to back the legislation. At the time, lawmakers questioned his ability to stand up to what they called popular but seriously flawed legislation.
With the spotlight on him brighter than ever, some say he will learn from his missteps.
Still, Cantor is widely respected by his Republican peers in Congress. He is an avid fundraiser and comfortable talking about policy, a key skill that has helped him climb the leadership ladder.
President Obama called out Cantor during a meeting with lawmakers in February, saying he can’t wait for the day when Cantor praises one of his ideas.
Pressed on why voters should embrace the GOP and where its new ideas are, Cantor gets a bit animated, saying, “It’s not about new ideas/old ideas. It’s about delivering. It’s about what works here, OK?”
He also rejects the notion that the public wants more government intervention in the wake of the financial meltdown, saying that the regulations in place “didn’t make sense…the emphasis on the means, rather than the ends I think it’s sometimes misplaced.”
Cantor faces the challenging task of getting the Republican Party better positioned on the economy, stressing that Americans are worried about the bottom line, their jobs and the nation’s fiscal future.
Like the president and congressional Democrats, Cantor faces huge tests in keeping his party in line on healthcare reform and climate change.
He rattles off talking points on each issue, but appears most eager to tackle energy, the Speaker’s flagship issue.
“The Speaker intends there to be a broad discussion [on energy] by July 4,” a smiling Cantor said. “Let’s have it. Let’s have it.”
Katelyn Ferral contributed to this article.
Excerpts of The Hill’s interview with Minority Whip Eric Cantor
Q: After the 2008 elections, a lot of people thought that you could have had the votes to become minority leader. Did you consider jumping into that race, as opposed to the whip?
A: I’ve always been a supporter of John Boehner to be minority leader and continue to support him in that role, and I’m working very hard so that he can become Speaker.
Q: Another 2008 issue that we’d love to put to bed — were you vetted by the McCain campaign to be vice president? Your name came up a bit in that context.
A: You know, I consistently say to that: Ask Sen. McCain — he’s the one that would be able to best communicate to you a response to that.
Q: Is the Earth warming or cooling? Is the problem man-made?
A: Well, I think that everybody — well, I don’t know if everybody, but most people have sort of come to the point at which the fact of carbon emissions is not something that is a good thing, necessarily, in excess. So I think we can all agree on that principle, and so … we all agree that we need to basically clean up our mess.
Q: The Capitol, as you know, is a place of relationships, and there has been a lot of chatter about your relationship with Leader Boehner. How often do you talk to Mr. Boehner, and what about all this chatter that there is friction?
A: You know, what’s amazing to me is this fascination with what goes on between John Boehner and I. We have a great relationship. We speak every day, and our staffs speak every day … I mean, we’re together; we’re a team. Look at what’s going on the other side — they have divisions galore. Where is the focus on … the differences that exist between Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer?
A: These are individuals who are formally elected officials, some who’ve not been in office. They have a right to a voice and a part of the debate.
Q: Do you think it’s beneficial that Republicans are using terms like “racist” or “reverse racist” for the Supreme Court nominee? Doesn’t that hurt your party?
A: Listen, I don’t use those terms and I don’t think that they should be used. I think the proper focus on [Sonia] Sotomayor is her opinions rendered from the bench.
Q: You said earlier this year that Republicans can win back the House in 2010. Do you still believe there’s a chance?
A: I think that we’ve got a shot of taking back this House this time and I think that prospect is largely based on the American people’s desire for a check and balance of power here in Washington. When you’ve got a situation where there’s an unfettered ability to run the table, and the direction in which they’re heading is far outside the mainstream, I think that that creates an environment for Republican takeover in the House.
Q: But if you look at the president’s poll numbers, the Republican loss in the 20th district in New York earlier this year, Sen. [Arlen] Specter (D-Pa.) leaving the party, how can you make that argument?
A: In 1994 we picked up 50 seats; we need 40 seats [in 2010]. It is my sense that the popularity of the president won’t necessarily translate into success … in congressional seats. It is much more what this Congress has done, what it can show it has done.