Transcript: Eric Cantor’s news conference following primary loss to David Brat

After losing his primary to tea party challenger David Brat, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced he will be stepping down from House leadership at the end of July.
June 11

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) delivered the following remarks on Capitol Hill Wednesday about his political future following a primary loss to challenger David Brat. Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.

REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): Good afternoon.

First of all, I just want to talk a little bit about what happened last night, and then going forward. You know, growing up in the Jewish faith, you know, I grew up, went to Hebrew school, read a lot in the Old Testament, and you learn a lot about individual setbacks. But you also read and you learn that each setback is an opportunity, and that there's always optimism for the future. And while I may have had a -- suffered a personal setback last night, I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of this country.

I couldn't -- you know, I'm honored that I've had the privilege to serve and represent the people of Virginia's 7th District. You know, people often lament what is wrong with this town, but I want to remind you of what's right. You know, I've had the honor to serve with so many very distinguished colleagues. You know, these are the people who fly across the country every single week trying to do what they can to help their constituents live a better life, and these are members on both sides of the aisle. I can tell you I have been more than honored to serve as a part of the Republican Conference and serve as their majority leader for the last several years.

After announcing his resignation as House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he would support current House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) if he chooses to run for leader.

My colleagues and I are also admirably served by a tremendous group of staff who put in tireless hours with the same noble intentions of trying to help the constituents of ours live a better life. These staffers are the backbone of this institution, and I'm proud to have gotten to know them and their families and actually call them part of my family.

I'd also like to recognize the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Capitol Police, and in particular the Dignitary Protection Division, who I've come to know personally and I've gotten to know their often unheralded services that really are second to none, and it's been an honor to be in their company.

It's especially been a privilege to get to know so many thousands -- tens of thousands of constituents, of neighbors who make up the community of the greater Richmond area. You know, Richmond, Virginia is a special place that I've called home my entire life. And I know that some of you, my friends in the press corps, have joined me there recently. But I encourage everyone to make the visit soon.

You know, we House Republicans have made some tremendous strides over the past few years. We fought to allow every child, regardless of their zip code, the ability to go to the school of their choice and to receive a quality education. We prioritized medical research and innovation, and have led the way into an unprecedented area -- era of technology and its breakthrough. We forced the reduction of spending in Washington in consecutive years for the first time since the Korean War. And we fought to protect people from losing their insurance or facing higher health-care costs due to "Obamacare." We passed bill after bill that would increase take-home pay and reduce costs for working middle-class American families.

Now, some people think Washington gets nothing done. Well, there's a stack of bills sitting in the Senate that shows House Republicans do get things done. We get a lot done. And our priority is building an America that works for the middle-class families who are struggling in this country.

But there is more work to do. Conservatives have solutions that can help alleviate the middle-class squeeze and provide opportunity to all regardless of their circumstance in life. And I will continue to fight for each and every American who's looking to better themselves and help their families by pursuing the American dream. While I will not be on the ballot in November, I will be a champion for conservatives across the nation who are dedicated to preserving liberty and providing opportunity.

Truly, what divides Republicans pales in comparison to what divides us as conservatives from the Left and their Democratic Party. I hope that all Republicans will put minor differences aside and help elect a Republican House and Senate so that we may all benefit from a proper check and balance that leaves our nation more secure, more prosperous and freer.

The United States of America is the greatest gift to mankind, and I'm confident that our nation will overcome every struggle, exceed every challenge, and share the message of freedom, prosperity and happiness to all liberty-seeking people around the world for decades to come.

Now, while I intend to serve out my term as a member of Congress from the Seventh District of Virginia, effective July 31st, I will be stepping down as majority leader. It is with great humility that I do so, knowing the tremendous honor it has been to hold this position. And with that I'm delighted to take some questions.

(Cross talk.)

Q: Mr. Cantor, why did you lose last night, and what can the party learn from your loss last night?

REP. CANTOR: You know, I'm going to leave the political analysis to y'all. I know that my team worked incredibly, incredibly hard. They did a tremendous amount of work. I'm proud of their work. I'm grateful for what they did. And in the end, the voters chose a different candidate.

Yes.

Q: Mr. Cantor, you're going to leave the political analysis to others, but you personally, I'm sure you've done some reflecting in the past 24 hours. Do you think that maybe you spent too much time here with your job as leader tending to your rank and file and not tending enough to constituents back home?

REP. CANTOR: You know, I was in my district every week, so I -- you know, there is a balance between holding a leadership position and serving constituents at home, but never was there a day did I not put the constituents of the Seventh District of Virginia first, and I will continue to do so.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Leader, what message do you believe that this sends about the future of immigration reform? Should it be stopped at this point or do you think it should go forward? And would you -- what have you talked to Speaker Boehner about?

REP. CANTOR: Well, first of all, what I would say, again, on the political piece of that I'll let you all do the analysis, but I will say that my position on immigration has not changed. It didn't change from before the election, during the election or the way it is today.

You know, I have always said the system is broken; it needs reforms. I think it is much more desirable and practically doable if we did it one step at a time, working towards where we have common ground and believe things in common. I don't believe in this "my way or the highway" approach that the president has laid out, and I've continued to take that position. I've said that there's common ground at the border. There's common ground. I would like to see the issue of the kids addressed by those that didn't break any laws and come here unbeknownst to them. So again, I've always said that there should be and is common ground, if we would just allow ourselves to work together.

(Cross talk.)

Paul (sp).

Q: Who do you want to succeed you, and how divisive will the election be within your conference?

REP. CANTOR: Well, I don't know who it is that will actually be running. I can tell you that if my dear friend and colleague Kevin McCarthy does decide to run, I think he'd make an outstanding majority leader. And I will be backing him with my full support.

(Cross talk.)

Q: I'm curious, a lot of -- a lot of focus has been on the politics side, but on the policy side, people are wondering what this means for some things like the Export-Import Bank reauthorization. You touched on immigration and some other things that are going on. Is this sort of the end of the legislating of this Congress, or do you think this Congress can still get those big things done?

REP. CANTOR: We've got a -- you know, obviously this month and next we are very full on the floor with appropriations measure that my team and the committees are working on. We have got CFTC authorization. We've got some energy bills that'll speak to bringing down costs for Americans who are facing the summer driving season. We've got a full set of bills. We've probably got another group of human trafficking bills to be done. The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, I believe, has announced a markup on the TRIA bill. We'll look to do that this summer.

There's a lot of things in motion. So, yes, we will continue to work, and hopefully the Senate will reciprocate so that that we can get the work of the American people done.

Chad.

Q: Thank you. Can you talk for a minute about -- you know, they say all politics is local here. You lost your race. A lot of people are going to try to read broader things into this here. But why shouldn't some Republicans be scared, as they move into their primaries, where they -- you say you spent, every week, some time in your district -- where they feel that they have shored up their base and then they get a challenge. Why shouldn't somebody be running scared at this point, after an unprecedented loss by a majority leader?

REP. CANTOR: You know, again, I think that, as you rightly suggest, all politics are local. And there was obviously a lot of attention that was cast on our race. But again, I think that our members are in good position in their districts, and again, I'll leave the political analysis of what happened to y'all.

Q: Leader Cantor, Democrats said you were too extreme; conservatives said you were too compromising. What advice do you have for your successor?

REP. CANTOR: Maybe we had it right somewhere in the middle.

But again, I -- you know, I think that this town should be about trying to strike common ground. I've always said it's better if we can agree to disagree, but find in areas which we can produce results. And I've said this before, Nancy. I've talked about my wife and I, almost now married 25 years, and believe me, we don't agree on everything. And we have managed to raise our family, have a wonderful marriage. She has stood by me throughout this public office stuff and has been a strong advocate for me, and not always believing in everything that I believe in, but we've managed to raise our family and do well.

I don't think that's too unlike life, I don't think it's too unlike the legislative arena, and I think more of that could probably be helpful.

Theodora.

Q: Mr. Cantor, what do you think your loss says about the party's direction for 2016?

Some of your Republican colleagues are already saying that it only emboldens the tea party to elect a more conservative, uncompromising Republican candidate.

REP. CANTOR: First of all, I'm -- again, Deidra (ph), I'm going to say I'm going to leave the political analysis of what happened yesterday to you all. I would say about the tea party, remember what the acronym means: "taxed enough already." All of us conservatives and Republicans believe in that. And when the tea party first came about in 2009, I believe it was largely in reaction to the tremendous overreach on the part of the Obama administration with the stimulus, "Obamacare," Dodd-Frank, the attempt at cap-and-trade in the House, and the country rose up and said enough is enough.

So I do believe that what we have in common as Republicans is a tremendous amount of commitment to a better and smaller government, and greater opportunity and growth for everybody. And the differences that we may have are slight and pale in comparison to the differences that we have with the Left and those expressing support for liberalism and a more expansive government.

Q: Can I just ask a follow up?

Q: (Off mic) -- how can you -- if you have the elections on July -- I'm sorry, June 19th and you're stepping down July 31st, can you actually have a leadership-in-waiting that long, or will that only create more friction?

REP. CANTOR: Again, I think you have to speak to the speaker about the timing of the leadership elections. And I will say that we've got a very busy floor period. I have announced ever since the beginning of the year we've got a lot on the floor. My team has been heavily involved with the committees in drafting legislation and making sure that we can run the floor and be expeditious in the legislative process. So we look forward to a very productive June and July.

Q: One follow up. You don't want to do political analysis. What about personal analysis? I mean, did you kind of look in the mirror before you went to sleep, if you went to sleep last night, and said, how did I let this happen?

REP. CANTOR: No, because I really do believe that we did everything we could.

I'm very, very proud of my team on the ground in Richmond for all they did. There was a tremendous outpouring of support on all sides. And I -- you know, again, I just came up short, and the voters elected another candidate.

Q: Leader Cantor, what's next for you? What's next for you? What's your next move, sir? What do you think you'll be doing after you leave Congress?

REP. CANTOR: Well, again, that is probably between my wife and me. And I will be looking at to see how I can best serve, how I can best be a part of what we really have been about here with the agenda called an America that works. And remember what it's premised upon, the notion that can conservative solutions of personal responsibility, limited government more liberty can produce the results and solve so many of the problems that the American people have been facing in an Obama economy under the Obama administration. So thank you all very much.

Q: Think you might run again in two years?

(No audible reply.)

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