CAPITOL HILL — This week's surprise primary defeat of the second most powerful Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, is still reverberating on Capitol Hill. Some lawmakers and analysts are asking if this shake-up in the House Republican leadership will make it even harder than it already is for the divided government to tackle pressing problems such as immigration.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner faced reporters Thursday for the first time since Eric Cantor became the first Majority leader ever to lose in a primary race to another member of his own party. Speaker Boehner called on Republicans to pull together to oppose the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama.
“This is a time for unity. This is a time to focus on what we all know is true, that the president’s policies have failed the American people," said Boehner.
Cantor lost his Virginia primary race to economics professor David Brat, who was supported by local conservative Tea Party groups. Brat accused Cantor of being too close to big business and of supporting amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave her view of Cantor and his defeat.
“And what is going on here is the Republican Party going even further to the right. The representative [Cantor], who is here, and is here still, was a hand-maiden of the Tea Party; they wanted their own person," said Pelosi.
Some analysts say that the American people are polarized in their political views, and that the divided U.S. government - with the White House and Senate controlled by Democrats and the House controlled by Republicans - reflects that big ideological gap across the country between Republicans and Democrats. Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia says he is not sure if Congress’s ability to govern can become any worse than it already is.
“But I will say Cantor’s loss will make Republican leaders very skittish and Republican members of Congress skittish about doing anything with immigration reform, because in this case, Cantor very much rejected the notion that he was soft on immigration," said Skelley. "Brat would say Cantor is in favor of amnesty and Cantor would very strongly respond to that, ‘no I’m not.'”
Pelosi blames Republicans for a lack of action on what she views as critical issues.
“Under the current leadership on the Republican side, we have had a shutdown of government, we have not passed immigration [reform], we have not passed the Voting Rights Act, which has always been bipartisan," she said.
Republican Speaker Boehner blamed the lack of action on immigration reform on President Obama.
“The president is going to have to demonstrate that he can be trusted to implement a law the way it was passed," he said.
Next week, House Republican members will choose a successor to Eric Cantor, and several candidates are already vying for the position. Analysts say whomever takes over as the next Majority leader may reveal a lot about which way Republicans are headed.