CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Vice President Joe Biden said here Friday that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) didn’t in fact walk out of the bipartisan debt-reduction talks led by the White House last spring.
Speaking before about 100 lawmakers at the House Democratic retreat here, Biden excoriated congressional Republican leaders including Cantor, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for engaging in what he termed “a political strategy of obstruction and division.”
But at one point in his remarks, Biden noted that he “happen(s) to personally like” the No. 2 House Republican and said that Cantor actually hadn’t walked out of the debt talks in late June.
“When Cantor walked out of those talks, he didn’t walk out. He called me the day before and said, ‘Joe, I can’t come back,’” Biden said.
Democrats over the summer repeatedly hammered Republicans for “walking away from the table” during the talks, and Cantor himself had announced in a statement the morning of June 23 that that Republicans were pulling out of the talks over an impasse on tax increases.
At the time, the move had appeared to come as a surprise to congressional Democrats as well as the White House. Biden had been tapped by Obama in the spring to lead the bipartisan debt-reduction working group, but the debt impasse was eventually resolved in private talks between the White House, McConnell and Boehner.
A Cantor spokesman confirmed that the night before withdrawing from the talks, the majority leader spoke to Biden in person and on the phone, and that the two also spoke by phone in the morning before Cantor made his announcement.
“Eric and Diana think the world of the Vice President and Mrs. Biden. Vice President Biden understands people, understands how to get things done, and knows that people can put aside their differences and find areas of common ground,” Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said in a statement.
Cantor and Biden had developed something of an unexpected rapport during the first phase of the debt talks, and the two leaders repeatedly made warm remarks about each other in public.