Pelosi: 'I feel sad' for Cantor

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she feels "sad" for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose staggering primary loss last week has forced him out of his majority leader position.

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Pelosi emphasized that her sympathy is rooted not in the toppling of leader once thought in line for Speaker, but in his fall from grace in the eyes of his Virginia constituents.

"If I had any sympathy about what happened last week, it wasn't so much about toppling a leader. ... It was really about how sad it must be to lose in your own district," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "For that, I have sympathy for Mr. Cantor, because that's hard.

"Power comes and goes here, but the connection you have to your district is such a deeply rooted thing," she added. "I feel sad for him in that regard."

The sentiments strike a distinctly different tone from that underlying comments Pelosi made last Thursday, two days after Cantor's surprise loss.

Then, she suggested that Cantor simply hadn't spent enough time in his district. "We all know that you keep your home fires burning," she said, and implied that his leadership style won't be missed by the Democrats.

"I have as much sympathy for Mr. Cantor as he would want me to have for him," she said.

"Why are you laughing?" she asked the reporters in the room. "That was a sincere comment."

Pelosi on Thursday said her change in tone was inspired during a visit to church over the weekend.

"I was thinking about it on Sunday when I was praying for the Republicans in church, as I do at least every Sunday," she said.

Pelosi's remarks came a few hours before House Republicans were scheduled to gather on Capitol Hill to vote on Cantor's replacement. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), currently the majority whip, is the front-runner in a contest against Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), the Tea Party favorite.

Pelosi declined to weigh in on the race or name a preference among the candidates.

"Hopefully ... we can all work together," she said. "I look forward to working with whomever they choose."