The heated dispute at a White House meeting Wednesday has Democrats venting all of their frustrations about a man they have long strongly disliked: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Accounts differ on the exact exchange between President Obama and Cantor at the end of the deficit session, but the Virginian told reporters that Obama was “very agitated” and bolted out of the room, while Democrats accused Cantor of “juvenile behavior” and said he rudely interrupted the president several times.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) on Thursday continued to focus on Cantor, saying he “shouldn’t even be at the table” in the debt talks, and casting him as unreasonable in comparison to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the other key Republican negotiators.
Boehner later defended Cantor at a news conference and said Democrats were trying to create a wedge between the pair that did not exist.
“Any suggestion that the role that Eric has played in this meeting has been anything less than helpful is just wrong,” Boehner told reporters.
At a briefing Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sidestepped a question about Cantor’s presence in the talks, simply saying they included all of the key leaders in Congress. He did not discuss Obama’s relationship with Cantor.
The tension with Democrats is in part due to Cantor’s effectiveness. He was the lead organizer in getting all of the Republicans in Congress to vote against the stimulus bill in 2009 and one of the leading critics of the president over the past two years.
Early in 2009, Obama acknowledged Cantor’s role in leading the opposition, joking, “I’m going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Some day, he’s going to say, ‘Boy, Obama had a good idea.’ ”
But Obama made little effort to court GOP leaders in the 2009 and 2010. And Cantor’s aggressive style, in comparison to the more laid-back but equally partisan Boehner and McConnell, seems to grate on Democrats, including the president.
At a televised meeting between the president and congressional leaders on health care last year, Cantor placed a copy of the more than 2,000-page bill on the table and flipped it as he asked a question of Obama.
“When we do props like this and you stack it up and you repeat 2400 pages . ... These are the kinds of political things we do that prevent us from actually having a conversation,” Obama chided Cantor.
Over the past week, Democrats have blamed Cantor for the GOP’s insistence that no tax increases be included in any agreement on increasing the debt ceiling and reducing the budget deficit, and that spending cuts be equal to increase in the debt ceiling. The Majority Leader has argued that those positions are shared by most of the Republicans in the House.
Staff writer Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.