June 15 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was ousted in a Republican primary last week in Virginia, defended his views on revising immigration laws while saying his position “can make a lot of people mad” in both political parties.
Cantor, who’s stepping down as the second-ranking House Republican, said today that he’s always supported giving legal status to certain undocumented children while opposing a broader rewrite of immigration laws that the Democratic-led U.S. Senate passed last year.
“Did that infuriate folks on both sides? Sure,” Cantor said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “But it is the principled position. I think an incremental reform approach to immigration is what we need.”
He said earlier on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that he’s been consistent in his views on immigration legislation.
“I’ve always said that I am not for a comprehensive amnesty bill, but I’ve always said that I was for the kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves here and know no other place as home,” Cantor said.
Cantor will resign as House majority leader on July 31 after losing a June 10 primary to David Brat, a little-known college economics professor, in one of the biggest election upsets in U.S. history. Cantor, who’s represented the Richmond- area 7th District since 2001, will serve the rest of his term, which ends in January.
Defeating Cantor, a seven-term House member, is the small- government Tea Party movement’s biggest win since it grew out of U.S. responses to the 2008 financial crisis.
Brat criticized Cantor for voting to increase the federal borrowing limit and accused him of backing a rewrite of immigration laws that opponents call “amnesty.”
Brat defeated Cantor by 11 percentage points in the primary, which drew more than 65,000 voters compared with 47,000 in the 2012 Republican primary. Cantor won 28,902 votes in the election, down 23 percent from 37,369 in 2012.
Cantor was defeated for re-election as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an advocate of overhauling immigration laws, won a Republican primary the same day with 56 percent of the vote against six opponents. Graham was among 14 Republicans who voted last June for a bill that would create a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., while directing $46.3 billion toward securing the border with Mexico.
“I don’t think Eric got beat because of his stand on immigration,” Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “I think he got beat because his lack of defining himself on immigration.”
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Cantor’s leadership position and focus on helping Republicans nationwide hurt him in his district.
Serving as majority leader “takes you out all over this country, takes you out of your district, and pretty soon, that good work you’re doing nationally becomes a liability locally,” Priebus said on CBS.
Cantor declined to speculate on why he lost.
“I really don’t think that there is any one reason for the outcome of the election,” Cantor said on CNN. “There are just a lot of things that go through voters’ minds when they go through the voting booth.”
Cantor said that he hasn’t made any decisions about his future.
“I’m not ready to close out any options right now,” Cantor said. “I just think that right now there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve been very gratified by the people who have already called and said, ’Hey, what are you doing.’”
Asked directly, Cantor said he didn’t want to lobby Congress.
“I don’t think that I want to be a lobbyist, but I do want to play a role in the public debate,” Cantor said on ABC.
Cantor is supporting Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the third-ranking House Republican, to succeed him as majority leader. House Republicans plan a June 19 vote.
McCarthy is favored to win the No. 2 spot in Congress behind House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. McCarthy recruited Republican candidates and raised money for them during the 2010 campaign, when Republicans won a majority of House seats. McCarthy opposed the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out failing banks and automakers, as well as the economic-stimulus efforts a year later.
As whip, McCarthy has been responsible for organizing the caucus into support for the leadership’s agenda -- a frequently difficult task in a caucus beset by divisions that often pit the Tea Party movement against traditional Republican advocates of business.
Opposing McCarthy for majority leader is Idaho Republican Raul Labrador, who’s aligned with the Tea Party movement and opposed Boehner’s re-election as House speaker in 2013. Labrador has called for “new leadership, fresh ideas and a different approach.”
“It’s important that we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time,” Boehner said last week.
To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jesse Hamilton in Washington at email@example.com To contact the editors responsible for this story: Don Frederick at firstname.lastname@example.org Anthony Gnoffo, Bernard Kohn