By Russell Berman - 06/12/14 12:16 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday praised his defeated lieutenant, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and called for unity as House Republicans moved quickly to replace a leader toppled in a historic primary loss.
The Speaker, in his first public comments since Cantor’s defeat, called the majority leader “a true friend” and thanked him for his service. But he refused to speculate on what caused him to lose a GOP primary to a little-known conservative college professor, Dave Brat.
The House GOP will vote in one week to select Cantor’s replacement, with the No. 3 Republican, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), emerging as the favorite to move up. Boehner declined to endorse anyone in the race.
“The members will make the decision about who the next majority leader is,” he said. “I’ve worked will all 434 other members of Congress before, and I can work with whoever gets elected.”
Boehner acknowledged that some members might think he scheduled the leadership election too soon, but he wanted the party to move quickly back to its agenda.
“It’s important we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time so that we can do the work we were elected to do,” he said.
Like Cantor on Wednesday, Boehner did not want to reflect on how a sitting majority leader could lose in a primary for the first time since the position was created in 1899.
But he questioned the notion that opposition to immigration reform was a deciding factor in Cantor’s race. Boehner repeated that distrust of President Obama was preventing House Republicans from bringing legislation to the floor, and he said he told the president that in a phone call on Wednesday.
In a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, Boehner wept as Cantor announced he would step down as majority leader on July 31. Boehner told Republicans he planned to run again for Speaker in 2015.