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White House welcomes new GOP leaders

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The White House congratulated the new House Republican leadership team on Friday, saying the administration would be "willing partners" looking to find areas of legislative "common ground."

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who was the No. 2 Republican in the House, lost his primary election earlier this month to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat in a historic upset. On Thursday, Republicans elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to replace Cantor as majority leader, with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) assuming McCarthy's job as whip.

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"They haven't papered over the differences; I won't either, in terms of our policy views and what we think is in the best interests of the country moving forward," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "There are plenty of differences. What we hope we can focus on are those areas of common ground. And we'll see whether or not they're willing to do that."

Earlier Friday, Obama's adviser Valerie Jarrett suggested the election of the new leadership team would open up a window to pass immigration reform this summer.

“There’s a change in leadership obviously with Cantor’s loss, and so we have an opportunity with a new team in place in the House to act,” Jarrett told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Friday.

That broke with conventional wisdom, which saw Cantor's loss to Brat — who repeatedly accused Cantor of supporting "amnesty" for illegal immigrants — as a death knell for immigration reform legislation.

But Earnest reiterated that the administration did not see Cantor's loss as a referendum on immigration reform.

"I saw a lot of those mailers that Mr. Cantor's campaign distributed, and he made pretty clear that he was opposed to immigration reform," Earnest said. "I'm not sure why there is this notion that if he had been elected that it's more likely that immigration reform would have passed. He was promising to do everything he could to block it."

Earnest said he believed it was "an open question whether or not the prospects for immigration reform's passage are enhanced by Mr. McCarthy's ascension to a higher position in the Republican leadership."

The spokesman did note that there were "many" in McCarthy's California district who supported reform efforts.

"But again, this will have to be a decision that Mr. McCarthy makes as he gets settled into what presumably is a fancy new office in the Capitol," Earnest said.

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