By Molly K. Hooper - 03/08/12 10:00 AM EST
The often ice-cold relationship between President Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is beginning to thaw.
The sudden cooperation between the Virginia Republican and the Obama White House is surprising, most notably because it’s happening during an election year.
“We got a heads-up from their legislative staff,” a source in Cantor’s office said.
The House is expected to overwhelmingly pass the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act on Thursday.
There have been side skirmishes on the JOBS Act, and there might be more if and when the Senate takes the measure up. Regardless, the Cantor-Obama alliance on the bill could represent a turning point in the GOP’s relationship with the president.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have criticized the legislation as small in scope, saying it will do little to lower the nation’s high unemployment rate. The fact, however, that Cantor and the White House are working hand in hand on a jobs bill was unthinkable in October, when the majority leader dubbed the president’s overall jobs package dead on arrival.
Interestingly, Cantor’s improving rapport with Obama comes as the president’s relationship with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been strained.
Boehner last year admitted that things had gotten “frosty” between him and Obama.
The Speaker this year has taken the lead in passing a partisan transportation bill, a measure Obama has vowed to veto.
Cantor announced the JOBS Act as Republicans were scrambling for votes on the highway legislation, a dynamic that still exits.
Obama and Cantor are certainly not going to become drinking buddies any time soon. Cantor regularly criticizes the Obama administration on issues ranging from healthcare to foreign policy to tax reform.
But it is striking how far the relationship has come in just a short amount of time.
Just six months ago, Cantor huddled with his staff to discuss why the president “hates him so much,” according to a profile of the majority leader in New York magazine.
Last summer, Obama stormed out a meeting with Cantor and other lawmakers during the debt-limit negotiations. Before departing, Obama told Cantor, “Don’t call my bluff.”
At Obama’s healthcare reform summit in 2010, the president expressed his irritation that Cantor brought the 2,400-page Senate bill to the White House meeting. In front of the cameras, Obama chided Cantor for playing politics with the “prop.”
A year earlier, at a fiscal responsibility summit, Obama said, “I’m going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Some day, sooner or later, he’s going to say, ‘Boy, Obama had a good idea.’ ”
Amid laughter, Obama said, “It’s going to happen. You watch.”
The Obama-Cantor détente might have something to do with other people in the White House. Cantor has had strong working relationships with Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew.
In early November, Biden, Cantor and their spouses had a “personal” dinner. And at various times last year, the two leaders exchanged public compliments.
Cantor on Wednesday told The Hill that he ran into Lew last week at a restaurant and thanked him for praising the JOBS bill in White House press releases.
The six-term lawmaker said he told Lew that “we’re going to try to keep the fights in the arena where they need to be and try and do the work in this arena.”
Throughout Obama’s term, Cantor has been one of the White House’s leading critics. But since last summer, Cantor has occasionally praised the administration.
For example, Cantor in November praised Obama’s nominee to lead the agency that heads Medicare and Medicaid. Cantor noted at the time that he worked well with Marilyn Tavenner when she served as Virginia health secretary.
Cantor tackled the president’s challenge earlier this year to send him jobs legislation, a goal Obama outlined in his State of the Union address.
While routinely knocking the Senate for not moving House-passed bills on the economy, Cantor knew he had to shift tactics to have a chance of getting a jobs bill signed into law this year.
He worked with former AOL CEO Steve Case, a member of Obama’s job council, to find common ground. Cantor asked Case to talk to Democrats to rally support for the measures that ultimately were included in the JOBS Act. Case did so, and a bipartisan bill was born, albeit a package of what some Democrats have labeled “old bills” bundled together.
House GOP leadership Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) on Wednesday said that Republicans have long wanted to work with the White House on job-creation measures.
Asked when was the last time — before the JOBS Act — that the administration had worked cooperatively with the GOP on jobs, Walden responded, “This would be it.”