House intrigue: Eric Cantor goes his own way, again


U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. Photo by The Washington Times/ZUMA Press. U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. Photo by The Washington Times/ZUMA Press.

It’s been quite a while since we’ve checked in with Virginia’s highest-ranking congressional official, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But with all of the crazy machinations and momentous decisions roiling the House chamber recently, it’s high time we explored the ongoing adventures of Richmond’s chisel-cheeked representative.

Ever since Republicans retook the House in 2010, the relationship between Cantor and his boss, Speaker of the House (and tear-prone tanning victim) John Boehner, has become more and more inscrutable. On its surface, the bond between the two men seems vanishingly weak, as Boehner continues to have trouble corralling his increasingly restive caucus, and Cantor continues to needle the Speaker by aligning himself with the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.

Now, some have hypothesized that Boehner and his chief lieutenant are actually working hand-in-glove, with Boehner playing the pragmatic negotiator while Cantor covers his right flank by placating the House’s most conservative elements. But that case became increasingly hard to make as Cantor went wildly off the reservation during the chaotic final days of the 112th Congress. In case you missed it, here’s what went down: In the frantic rush to head off the so-called “fiscal cliff,” Boehner at first tried to negotiate a solution with the White House, but then—realizing that President Obama held all the cards, and that income taxes on the rich were going to rise no matter what—he broke off talks and announced that he would submit his own “Plan B,” which would only raise taxes on millionaires (as opposed to the $250,000 threshold that Obama was insisting on).

But it soon became painfully obvious that Boehner couldn’t round up enough support for his plan, and so the vote was called off in a most humiliating fashion. Then the action switched over to the Senate, where a deal hammered out between Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden passed with overwhelming support.

Meanwhile, back in the House, Cantor was criticizing the Senate bill, which raised income taxes on those making more than $450,000 a year, and reportedly spent much of New Year’s day maneuvering to add spending cuts to the proposal. This, of course, would have necessitated sending the bill back to the Senate (almost certainly to its untimely death).

Apparently fed up, Boehner eventually brought the Senate bill to the House floor for a simple up-or-down vote, and it passed 257-167, albeit with only 85 Republican ayes. Tellingly, both Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy voted no.

Adding to the bad blood, Boehner squashed a vote on a Cantor-backed aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy, leaving the measure in limbo and a number of East Coast republicans—including Chris Christie, the popular governor of New Jersey—visibly furious. This unexpected backlash sent Boehner into immediate damage control mode, and he quickly scheduled another vote and released a joint statement with Cantor reaffirming that “aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress.”

Amazingly, even after all of this procedural incompetence and internecine warfare, Boehner still managed to secure another term as House Leader (if barely), with Cantor remaining as his number two. But mark our words—if Cantor has anything to do with it (and he does), the balance of power between this dysfunctional duo will continue to tilt decisively in his favor.

Ever since Republicans retook the House in 2010, the relationship between Richmond’s Eric Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner has become more and more inscrutable.

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