TIME Congress

Boehner: Obama ‘Taking A Nap’ as Violence Tearing Iraq Apart

John Boehner Holds Press Briefing At The Capitol
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner speaks during a news conference on June 12, 2014 in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Republicans rip the President as northern Iraqi cities fall to militant extremists

Updated at 1:02 p.m.

House Speaker John Boehner ripped the President for not doing more in recent days to prevent Sunni jihadist militants from taking control of key Iraqi cities, including Mosul and Tikrit. Insurgents have been advancing through Iraq’s heartland with their eyes set on Baghdad, the country’s capital.

“They are 100 miles from Baghdad,” said Boehner Thursday. “And what’s the president do? Taking a nap.”

“It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year,” he added.

Boehner believes the U.S. should provide “the equipment and technical assistance that the Iraqis have been asking for.” The U.S. has rebuffed requests by the Iraqi government to order airstrikes in extremist areas, according to The New York Times. The Obama Administration has been reluctant to engage the recent extremist uprising as the American public largely endorsed withdrawing the last of its troops from Iraq in 2011.

Boehner said he did not know “enough of the details” to comment on whether or not the U.S. should engage in airstrikes.

Some of Boehner’s Republican colleagues in the Senate were also critical of the Obama Administration on Thursday, none more so than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain told reporters that Obama’s entire national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be replaced.

President Obama said Thursday that his team is looking to identify how the U.S. can provide greater assistance to the Iraqis.

“Over the last year we have been providing them with additional assistance to try to address the problems that they have in Anbar, the northwest portions of the country, as well as the Iraqi and Syrian border,” said Obama. “That includes in some cases military equipment, it includes intelligence assistance, includes a whole host of issues.”

“What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq’s going to need more help,” he said. “It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community…So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria.”

With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME Congress

Here Comes the Game of Thrones to Replace Eric Cantor

(L) House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy-leaves House Speaker John Boehner's office on June 11, 2014 in Washington. (C) Eric Cantor arrives for a news conference in Washington on June 11, 2014. (R) Representative Pete Sessions during a news conference to launch the Yellow Pages Caucus February 7, 2012 in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite—AP; Jim Bourg—Reuters; Alex Wong—Getty Images

Inside the race for the next majority leader

Eric Cantor got moon-doored Tuesday in a primary election plot-twist worthy of Game of Thrones. And like the television series about dragons and swords, the race to succeed Cantor is likely to be a brutal and ultimately entertaining affair. At stake may be nothing less than the future of the Republican Party.

GOP leaders set June 19 as the election date so they could truncate the campaign in the hopes of avoiding the Tea Party coalescing behind their own candidate. Because if they do, there’s little the establishment can do to stop them: they will elect the next majority leader and heir apparent when House Speaker John Boehner steps down. Functionally, little changes as long as Boehner is speaker, but rumors have been swirling for months that Boehner is itching to go—an exit now likely delayed by years.

There are now 240 Republicans in Congress, and first one to a majority will win, though multiple votes can be held to winnow a large field. Boehner typically swings 40 votes. If the 170-member conservative Republican Study Committee splits between two or more candidates, as they have in the past, then Boehner’s votes win the day for whichever candidate he picks. But if all 170 back one candidate, that candidate wins.

That said, with Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican, dropping out of the race on Thursday morning, the Tea Party field is wide open, with no members coming forward to make a claim on the job. (As they say on the medieval television show, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”) Hensarling’s staff, sources say, were meeting to strategize on his bid to challenge Boehner for his speakership in January when Cantor’s returns started coming in. Hensarling has probably decided to hold his fire for the January leadership elections at the beginning of the next Congress and the top slot.

So as it stands, there are two potential candidates in the running—neither of the Tea Party ilk. The field, still fluid now, will be set by Monday when campaigning will begin in earnest. Others are likely to throw their hat in the ring, but they are not going to show their hand just yet.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, California:

When Cantor announced his exit on Wednesday, he threw his support behind McCarthy, with whom he is very close. Cantor and McCarthy started Young Guns, the campaign that is credited with helping win back the House in 2010. That said, an endorsement from Cantor these days could prove detrimental with the Tea Party wing of the conference still mad at Cantor for what they see as his betrayal on a host of issues in recent months. Notably, Paul Ryan, former vice presidential nominee and the third Young Gun founder, said Thursday after Hensarling dropped out that he would now vote for McCarthy.

Allies of McCarthy, who has yet to even say if he’s running for certain, say he has the votes, according to the Washington Post. But leadership races are confidence games. In 2002, Nancy Pelosi claimed she had the votes to become whip in a race against Steny Hoyer. Though she probably didn’t actually have the votes, her certainty convinced the caucus to vote for her and she carried the day. The ballot is secret, so claims that anyone has the vote locked down are almost impossible to prove and often come up false when actual voting begins. Leadership races are akin to the College of Cardinals electing a new pope, nothing said before they enter conclave is meaningful.

“Hopefully we get this taken care of as soon as possible,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican and McCarthy supporter, who gathered with upwards of 35 members yesterday in McCarthy’s office about an hour before Cantor told his conference he would step down from his leadership post. “That’s the best thing we can do for the conference.”

If McCarthy, 49, does win the slot, it would cap an even more meteoric rise than Cantor, who became majority leader after just a decade in Congress. McCarthy, who represents the most conservative district in California, was only elected to Congress in 2006.

Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas:

Sessions, 59, is a close ally of Boehner’s and ran the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2010 cycle, when Republicans gained control of the House. He had hoped to be rewarded with a leadership post after that achievement, but lost the whip race to McCarthy. This time around, he’s itching for a rematch and has already come out swinging, saying the conference needs a more conservative and experienced hand at the tiller.

“I believe I can do a good job. I believe I’ve led our team before. I’ve led our team to victory for the NRCC,” Sessions tells TIME. “I believe we brought conservatives up all across the country. We made us the majority and we’ve kept that majority—two of the largest majorities we’ve had in 70 or 80 years. And I think that’s a job of a majority [leader] is to win. I think we can continue winning that way.”

Sessions faced his own primary challenger this election, but he won easily. He enters the race the underdog, having already lost one leadership contest to McCarthy, but with this conference you never know.

Let the games begin.

Additional reporting by Alex Rogers

TIME elections

Before Cantor: Seven Other Tea Party Upsets

The defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a little-known Tea Partier isn't the first upset in recent election cycles

It all started four years B.C. Four years before Cantor that is.

Since the Tea Party had its first member elected to public office in 2010 (Dean Murray to the New York State Assembly), the feisty political movement has rocked the GOP with challengers to elected positions long-held by establishment Republicans.

In the latest upset, House Majority Leader and No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor, lost to the Tea Party-backed economics professor, Dave Brat in the Virginia Republican primary on Tuesday.

It’s a result which many are calling one of the most stunning primary election results in congressional history. Cantor was considered a top contender to replace John Boehner as the next House Speaker. What’s more, Cantor was a vocal supporter of child immigration rights, which many thought might help change the debate on immigration.

But Cantor isn’t the only establishment Republican to face a surprising defeat to a Tea Party challenger. See seven of the biggest Tea Party election upsets (in four years of history) below.

1. Ted Yoho

Yoho—whom the Tampa Bay Times retroactively dubbed “The Eric Cantor of Florida”—caused a major upset in 2012, defeating longtime incumbent Congressman Cliff Stearns, who served 12 terms in the house beginning in 1988, in the Republican primary.

Yoho then easily defeated Democrat candidate J.R. Gaillot in the general election, walking away with 64.8 % of the votes.

2. Ted Cruz

In the 2012 Republican primary runoff for senate, Ted Cruz faced off against the establishment GOP candidate and Lieutenant Governor of Texas, David Dewhurst. Dewhurst had the backing of Governor Rick Perry and many other members of the state’s Republican leadership, but in the end this support meant little—Cruz defeated Dewhurst by more than 150,000 votes out of the 1.1 million cast.

Cruz then defeated Democratic challenger Paul Sadler in the general election, becoming the first Hispanic to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.

3. Mike Lee

Senator Robert F. Bennett lost his bid for a fourth term during the 2010 primaries when he received only 27% of the vote by Utah’s delegates and missed a runoff. During the critical Utah GOP convention, Bennett told delegates in a speech, “Don’t take a chance on a newcomer,” but that’s exactly what they did. Taking his place was Mike Lee, an attorney with no prior political experience.

Lee also beat Democratic challenger Sam Granato in the general election, with 62%t of the votes compared to Granato’s 33%.

4. Marco Rubio

The race for the open seat on Florida’s Senate in 2010 was a three-way battle. With the sitting Governor Charlie Crist running as an Independent, facing off against Democrat Kendrick Meek and Republican Marco Rubio.

Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, won the race with 49% of the vote. Talk of him running for president in 2012 began immediately, and although he expressed no intention to run back then, he’s said it’s something he’ll consider in 2016.

5. Brad Wenstrup

Like Mike Lee, Brad Wenstrup was a political newbie when he won Ohio’s 2nd congressional district in 2012, first defeating Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt in the primaries, and then Democratic challenger William R. Smith in the November general election.

6. Rand Paul

Rand Paul, with his unconventional views on foreign policy and social issues, is a hard pill for the GOP to swallow. But the pill become a lot more cumbersome in 2010, when he beat out establishment favorite Trey Grayson in the Republican primary.

He faced off against Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (a Democrat) in the general election, walking away victorious with 56% of the vote.

7. Tim Scott

In 2010, South Carolina held a 9-candidate Republican primary, including two candidates with fathers who were also involved in Republican politics—Paul Thurmond, son of former South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, and Carroll Campbell, son of former South Carolina Governor Carroll A. Campbell. Scott came in first, with 32% of the vote.

After a second vote to secure more than 50% of the vote, Scott went on to defeat Democrat Ben Frasier in the general election, becoming the first African American to be elected to congress from South Carolina in more than 100 years. He was later appointed to the U.S. Senate seat from South Carolina, replacing Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who retired.

TIME Congress

Eric Cantor’s Departure a Bummer for Business Lobby

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Eric Cantor listening to a speaker during a press conference following a Republican Conference meeting at the US Capitol in Washington. Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

Lobbying firms representing corporations and industry associations have spent years pouring money into Cantor’s campaigns

When Eric Cantor went down in flames Tuesday night, he took with him the hopes and dreams of a big chunk of the corporate lobby on K Street—along with a hefty wad of their cash.

Lobbying firms representing corporations, Wall Street, and industry trade associations have spent years pouring money into Cantor’s campaigns, hiring his former staffers, and otherwise investing in access to the former House Majority Leader, who was, until somewhere around dinner time on Tuesday, widely considered to be not only a shoe-in for reelection but also the next-in-line for Speaker of the House.

So far this election cycle, Cantor had raised more than $1.2 million from the financial services industry alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His ability to extract cash from Wall Street was surpassed by only four other lawmakers, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Cantor also accepted support this cycle—mainly in check-form—from nearly 400 PACs representing corporations and trade associations from every sector of the economy, from Oracle and Blue Cross Blue Shield to Verizon. In addition to the Wall Street banks, the list also includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a healthy portion of the Fortune 500 list.

Cantor’s unexpected departure upsets the power dynamic on K Street, where recent hires, whose rising stock was linked to their connections to the presumed Speaker-to-be, have lost their ace in the hole. Cantor’s longtime senior counselor and former chief of staff Kyle Nevins and Cantor’s former “Young Gun” colleague on the National Republican Congressional Committee Jeff Burton, among many others, are now both without their most powerful connection on the Hill.

Wall Street will also feel the loss. Cantor, who proved himself a valiant defender of the banks since his first committee assignment on the Financial Services Committee, has often sided with the industry on key issues. In 2007, he refused to support a tax overhaul that would have increased tax rates for private-equity managers. In the wake of the financial crisis, he was an unflagging supporter of bailouts and other measures to under gird the biggest banks, including Goldman Sachs, where his wife used to work and which has been one of his most loyal donors. So far this election cycle, the investment bank’s PAC and its employees contributed $125,000 to Cantor’s campaign.

In 2012, Cantor went to bat over a provision in the Stock Act that would have required financial institutions to disclose who feeds them information about policy changes on the Hill. As a result of Cantor’s efforts, the identities of these so-called political intelligence purveyors remain secret—a point that Brat was not shy to point out on the campaign trail this spring.

While Cantor himself has not announced his next career move, one likely option is—what else?—a plum spot on K Street. On Wednesday, when a Politico reporter asked the head of a big lobbying firm if the firm might hire Cantor, the executive responded: “We’re always looking for talent.”

TIME Congress

John Boehner Tears Up As Eric Cantor Announces Departure

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.”

TIME politics

Dick Armey: Eric Cantor ‘Forgot To Dance With the Ones That Brung Him’

I could never get myself comfortable with Eric Cantor in leadership, and I was not surprised that he lost last night.

Two of my favorite and most reliable of Armey’s Axioms are: “If it is about you, you lose” and “If it is about political ambition, you lose.”

Although I tried, I could never get myself comfortable with Eric Cantor in leadership because it always seemed to be about him and his personal political ambitions. Those things drain off a lot of time and energy and divert attention away from what is really important. People who waste their time on themselves are bound to be found out and fired eventually. That is why I was not surprised that Eric Cantor lost last night.

To me his losing was inevitable. Only the time and circumstances were in doubt. He was just too busy with his legitimate and necessary duties as Majority Leader, which are substantial, and his constant posturing, conniving, and plotting to take away the next job up to pay attention to his district. He did not do his homework, and so he got fired by his first, most critical constituency. He forgot to dance with the ones that “brung” him.

David Brat is a free-market economist like me. And, like me in 1984, he correctly perceived that the incumbent, rich in all the superficial trappings of political advantage, had put himself in a place where he would lose his seat to the first credible challenger. David knew he could be that guy, and he will be elected next fall if he remains that guy. My advise to Brat is to stay focused on the economic issues and maintain a high commitment to principles and policy. Good policy makes good politics, and you have a discerning voting constituency. Trust in your integrity and trust in their discernment.

The House Republicans have a chance to fix themselves as they replace their Majority Leader. Here are my suggestions:

Chose a person who is driven by policy objectives for the nation not political ambitions for himself.

Chose a creative thinker with serious policy innovations.

Chose a person who understands that it is an honor and a duty to have been chosen and that he has a moral duty to do, to the best of his abilities, the job for which he was chosen.

Do not make a deal for your vote in a leadership race, it is undignified and cheapens the process.

Do not give your vote to someone who offers a deal. He has just insulted you.

Richard K. Armey is the former Majority Leader of the U. S. House of Representatives.

MONEY

Why Wall Street Will Mourn Eric Cantor (But Not For Long)

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: Then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks to the media during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The financial services industry spent a lot supporting Eric Cantor. So what did they lose yesterday?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprise defeat in yesterday’s Republican primary sure seems like bad news for Wall Street. Among the seven-term Virginia congressman’s top donors, according to OpenSecrets.org, were individuals and PACs associated with money managers Blackstone Group and Scoggin Capital Management, and the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

If nothing else, they got a lousy return on investment. But will Cantor’s imminent departure from Congress be a serious setback for financial services companies on the issues they really care about?

Cantor’s loss will have the most immediate impact on two fairly narrow pieces of legislation: the renewal of the charter for the Export-Import Bank, and the extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program, or TRIA. (The bank is a government agency that provides loans to purchasers of U.S. goods. TRIA helps insurers cover losses due to terrorism.) These aren’t issues that move a lot of voters to the polls, but for some conservative activists they are symbols of the way government gets too close to business. TRIA and the Ex-Im bank have support among business and financial lobbying groups, and Cantor was seen as an ally. But House financial services committee chairman Jeb Hensarling has been a skeptic of both programs.

“There is probably no better poster child of the Washington insider economy and corporate welfare than the Export-Import Bank,” said Hensarling in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in May.

Cantor’s defeat is widely seen as a chance for Hensarling to move up in the House Republican leadership. Hensarling voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bank bailout, which Cantor supported.

The victory of Cantor’s primary opponent, David Brat, is also a revival in fortunes for the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. That raises the specter of another acrimonious fight over the raising of the debt ceiling.

Few on Wall Street would welcome the prospect of the U.S. government defaulting on its debts, and another round of brinksmanship could cause major headaches for investors. The 2011 deadlock caused Standard and Poor’s to downgrade the U.S.’s credit rating from triple-A status, and led to a historic plunge in the Dow. However, the debt ceiling does not come up again until March 2015.

But on the big regulatory issues, such as the post-crisis Dodd-Frank law imposing new rules on banks, and the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, not much has really changed. By and large, across the Tea-Party-to-Establishment spectrum, the GOP sings from the same hymn book—they want these White House-backed laws rolled back. “Those things are sort of partisan issues,” says one D.C. conservative activist. The insurance, banking, and securities industries are also top sources of campaign donations for Hensarling, by the way. (As they are for many Democrats, too.)

In an interview on Bloomberg Televsion today, Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn was asked if Cantor’s defeat would make it harder to do business. “I don’t know,” replied Cohn. “I don’t think so.”

TIME Congress

Congressman Breaks Down on House Floor After Oregon School Shooting

Amid a moment of silence on the floor

When the Oregon congressional delegation took to the House floor on Tuesday to ask for a moment of silence in the wake of a deadly school shooting, Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer was overwhelmed with emotion.

“[The] Troutdale High School is a terrific institution in my district,” Blumenauer said, before showing a gift students there had recently given him during a visit. When Blumenauer held up the wooden bowtie decorated with a bicycle on the House floor, he began to fight back tears.

Police say a teenage gunman killed one student and injured a teacher before turning the gun on himself at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., on Tuesday. All five members of Congress from Oregon, Democrats Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, and Suzanne Bonamici, and Republican Greg Walden, stood with Blumenauer as he laid out the details of Tuesday’s tragic events.

“I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that the House observe a moment of silent in support for the victims, their families, and the community,” Blumenauer said through tears.

TIME Military

Hagel Becomes Pentagon Piñata For Lawmakers Upset Over Bergdahl Deal

Chuck Hagel
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens to opening statements prior to testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 11, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

He recites a litany of reasons, but lawmakers keep swinging sticks

There’s next to nothing Congress can do about the Obama Administration’s swapping five senior Taliban leaders for long-imprisoned Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. That means they can only vent their outrage over the done deal. They finally got a chance to do that Wednesday when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel traveled to Capitol Hill to retro-justify the trade.

Both Republican and Democratic members of the 62-member House Armed Services Committee criticized the way the deal was carried out, and the ultimate price paid by the U.S. The fact that they couldn’t reverse the deal only exacerbated their anger, and led them to tongue-lash Hagel.

“Answer it! Answer it! Answer it!” bellowed Rep. Jeff Miller to Hagel after the Florida Republican suggested the Pentagon was delaying its investigation into Bergdahl’s capture by keeping him under wraps in a German military hospital.

“I don’t like the implication of the question,” Hagel countered.

It quickly became clear that the tussle wasn’t over Bergdahl’s fate so much, or even Hagel, as it was about the stark lack of trust between the Administration and Congress. President Barack Obama’s point man was little more than a piñata to lawmakers, who seemed more intent on bashing the President than listening to Hagel’s justifications, or the legal reasoning of Stephen Preston, the Pentagon’s top lawyer.

Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., the panel chairman, said a closed-door briefing on the deal by Administration officials earlier this week was “misleading and at times blatantly false.” He blasted the Administration for “its unprecedented negotiations with terrorists” (The George W. Bush Administration also negotiated with terrorists, so “unprecedented” might not be the correct word here).

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the senior Democrat on the panel, offered cover, of a sort, to the Pentagon. “The Department of Defense, in my experience, has been very good about consulting with us and about working with this body,” he said. “The White House, on the other hand, has not been very good about keeping in touch with Congress.”

Hagel acknowledged legitimate reasons for congressional ire, but cited the need for swiftness and secrecy for keeping lawmakers in the dark about the deal, despite a law requiring the White House to notify Congress 30 days before any detainees leave Guantanamo. “I recognize that the speed with which we moved in this case has caused great frustration, legitimate questions and concern,” he said. “We could have done a better job… of keeping you informed.”

Lawmakers didn’t focus on the fact that Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Admiral James Winnefeld, the vice chairman—the nation’s top two military officers—approved of the swap. While many in the military didn’t like the particulars of the deal, they thought getting Bergdahl home was the top priority. “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of -a-bitch,” James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, said earlier this week. “So let’s get him back, let the Army investigate, and we’ll sort it out.”

As the hearing droned on, the Washington Post disclosed some of Bergdahl’s pre-capture writings—and the fact that the Coast Guard had discharged him for psychological reasons in 2006 after 26 days in basic training. That should have required the Army to issue a waiver allowing him to enlist, something the service was routinely doing because it was having difficulty attracting sufficient soldiers when Bergdahl enlisted in 2008.

Some of the facts left Hagel flailing. While the five Taliban released “were part of the planning” of attacks on the U.S. and its allies, he said, “we have no direct evidence of any direct involvement [by them] in direct attacks on the United States or any of our troops.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) seized the opening: “So your point was they didn’t pull the trigger, but they were senior commanders of the Taliban military who directed operations against the United States and its coalition partners. Would that be a better way to do it?”

“That’s right,” Hagel responded. “That’s right.”

“Just like bin Laden didn’t pull a trigger,” McKeon said after a pause.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) expressed chagrin that Bergdahl’s release wasn’t part of a bigger peace accord. “My Marines down in Camp Lejeune, quite frankly, are tired of going to Afghanistan and getting their legs blown off,” he said.

Despite the venom, lawmakers had little interest in swinging at Hagel, other than as a way to smack Obama. And they had political cover: A pair of polls released Tuesday said more Americans opposed than supported the deal.

That adds jet fuel to the controversy, which only means it will continue to burn. Beyond the Army’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s capture, McKeon opened the hearing by promising his panel will conduct “a full investigation” surrounding the deal that won Bergdahl his freedom.

TIME Congress

Cantor To Resign as Majority Leader

Following stunning primary defeat

Eric Cantor said Wednesday that he will step down from his post as House Majority Leader, capping a sudden fall from political power that started with a shocking electoral defeat Tuesday.

“It is with great humility that I do so, knowing the tremendous honor it has been to hold this position,” Cantor told reporters in Washington. His resignation from leadership will be effective July 31.

The Virginia Republican was toppled in a stunning primary upset Tuesday night by economics professor Dave Brat.

“While I may have suffered a personal setback last night, I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of this country,” Cantor said. Pointing to House Republicans’ work on spending cuts, education reform and opposition to President Barack Obama’s health reform law, Cantor said: “Now some people think Washington gets nothing done. Well there’s a stack of bills waiting in the Senate that shows House Republicans get things done. A lot of things.”

His defeat had already touched off a furious scramble, with several prominent Republican lawmakers angling for a chance to replace Cantor in the House GOP hierarchy. Cantor was widely seen as a front-runner to succeed House Speaker John Boehner. Cantor said Wednesday that he plans to support Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California for the job, who he said “would make an outstanding Majority Leader.”

Cantor did his best to avoid opining on why he lost, but he pushed back against the idea that he had been too focused on his leadership role and not enough on his district. “I was in my district every week,” he said. And Cantor sought to tamp down the narrative that his defeat exposed a deeper rift in the Republican Party at a time when Tea Party conservatives had seemed to be on the wane. “What divides Republicans pales in comparison to what divides us conservatives from the left and the Democratic Party,” he said. He said his focus would remain on the party’s legislative agenda until his term ends, and declined to speculate on what he might do after leaving office.

Democrats took the opportunity again Wednesday to hold up Cantor’s defeat as evidence the GOP has gone too far in blocking Obama’s agenda.

“I do think that this outcome does provide some evidence to indicate that the strategy of opposing nearly everything and supporting hardly anything is not just a bad governing strategy, it is not a very good political strategy either,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “That is why the President has pursued a different approach [and]… has laid out what his priorities are.”

The maneuvering for Cantor’s leadership spot began shortly after his campaign was caught off guard on Tuesday night. The upset sent shockwaves reverberating through the House GOP, but the initial surprise soon yielded to ambition. The first question is who supplants the seven-term Virginia Republican as the GOP’s majority leader and Boehner’s No. 2. The natural successor for the job is McCarthy, the No. 3 House Republican. McCarthy has kept a low profile since Cantor’s defeat, issuing only a brief four-sentence condolence statement, but is expected to make a play for the job.

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, has begun lining up support for a competing bid. And fellow Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a favorite of the GOP’s Tea Party wing, is also considered a possible candidate. Hensarling said in a statement that he is “prayerfully considering” a run at a leadership post.

“McCarthy relied on Cantor to pull him along while working closely with him,” says one GOP aide. “This makes it likely that Hensarling gives it a shot.”

Should McCarthy move up, multiple candidates are also lining up to replace him as the conference’s whip. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who heads the roughly 170-member Republican Study Committee, is already trying to “lock down support” from a bloc of conservatives, according to another House GOP aide. And Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam, the party’s deputy whip and a strong fundraiser, is expected to mount a bid for the role.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the GOP’s top-ranked woman, must also decide whether to launch a campaign for a higher role or remain in her perch as the party’s conference chair. “She is assessing how she can best serve the people in her district, the Conference, and the country,” says a GOP aide. “She’s hearing from a lot of people and talking to a lot of people, but hasn’t made any decisions.”

As Republicans scramble, Democrats are planning to use the jockeying to argue their Hill opponents are consumed with “chaotic” internal squabbles, says a Democratic strategist familiar with the party’s midterm elections planning.

Shortly before Cantor’s remarks Wednesday, Boehner addressed House Republicans behind closed doors and thanked Cantor for his service.

“This is a speech I never expected to give,” Boehner said in remarks provided to reporters. “I want to start by offering a heartfelt thanks to Eric and his staff for their service to our conference, our institution and our country.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Boehner added. “When I was elected majority leader eight and a half years ago, Eric was there, as the chief deputy whip. He’s always been there. There’s no one who works harder, or puts more thought, into advancing our principles and the solutions we want to enact for the American people.”

-Additional reporting by Jay Newton-Small and Alex Rogers

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