Before House Majority Leader Eric Cantor could tell his fellow Republicans that he was stepping down, Speaker of the House John Boehner began to cry Tuesday in the basement of the Capitol, as he praised his outgoing colleague at a caucus meeting behind closed doors, according to several members of Congress who were present.
Republicans had gathered to honor their leader as he announced plans to leave his leadership on July 31, after losing his primary race on Tuesday. For at least short time, his colleagues stopped their jockeying to replace him and offered words of praise. “Eric Cantor was one of the five most influential people in the United States of America in unseating Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker and giving us a Republican majority,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).
“There was a whole lot of standing ovations for everything that [Cantor] said,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). “It felt like I was at a mortuary watching a viewing.”
Other members said they believed that Cantor lost his job to protect theirs. “I think Eric was in the awkward position of having to go around the nation and every weekend always take care of national issues and business that required him to be outside of his district,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who is running for Senate. “I’m home in Georgia every single weekend.”
“Ultimately it might have cost him his elected position but good leaders will sacrifice to do what they believe is right,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.).
The afternoon meeting disrupted a day of reckoning, as members calculated how the loss of Cantor would affect their pet projects. Hours before the meeting, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who is in favor of immigration reform, lamented the loss of Cantor, calling it a “major disruption” and a “huge tsunami in this legislative process.”
Others moved quickly to capture their own personal ambitions. Several members were optimistic that the leadership race would not harm the Republican conference’s agenda. The vote on a new majority leader has been promptly scheduled for a week from Thursday to avoid a “fractious situation,” according to Bishop.
But the early jockeying was evident. While members applauded Cantor in the basement, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) spoke with reporters about his defend-the-border campaign to replace Cantor as Majority Leader. The overwhelming feeling inside the room, according to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), was simply “sadness.”
When asked if the leadership race is dividing the conference, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said, “Well not yet it’s not.”
“This is the natural course of events,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). “This is politics, after all.”