Cantor’s Conservatism
The House majority leader discusses the successes and setbacks of GOP rebranding.

House majority leader Eric Cantor


Robert Costa

COSTA: So you’ll bring up your bill again?

CANTOR: I’m in conversations with Joe Pitts, Fred Upton, and others on the committee. It’d be high-risk pools for people with preexisting conditions. We don’t support the mandates that Obamacare is going to implement, which will lead to the largest entitlement that the country will ever see.

COSTA: What’s your response to conservatives within the conference who say that any legislation that isn’t a full repeal of the law isn’t worth pursuing?

CANTOR: That’s an ongoing debate. I believe that the onslaught of Obamacare is a real threat to the fiscal health of the country and to the kind of health care we receive. I believe we ought to fight to repeal Obamacare at every turn. I think it’s fair to say that the president doesn’t embrace repeal. We need to demonstrate that forcing people into what Washington wants is a bad route, in terms of health-care freedom.

COSTA: Conservatives are wondering if you’re moving too far toward the middle. Are you becoming more centrist?

CANTOR: No. Look at what’s on the floor today. What’s not conservative about saying you want to remove government impediments to increase freedom? That’s what the Working Families Flexibility Act does. Martha Roby [an Alabama Republican] has done a great job as a working mother. Parents need to be flexible in the time that they work. It is about freedom, and it’s a classic example of how conservative values can help produce a better life for these families. No matter what kind of job they have, working parents would probably agree that they need more time. That’s what this bill does, by getting the government out of the way.

COSTA: Then why is the conference resistant?

CANTOR: I don’t hear that. I think the conference is behind the notion that less government means more freedom, that conservative philosophy produces better results. Educational reform is another piece of what we’re working on — allowing for parents to choose where those dollars are spent will result in much better outcomes. Obviously, I’m very focused on the Richmond area and my constituency and how we can improve there. You can look at special-needs parents, in particular, and they would absolutely benefit from having more control over their dollars, because they don’t have children who fit into the one-size-fits-all educational bureaucracy.

COSTA: What about immigration?

CANTOR: I’ve always looked at the immigration issue as something that you have to balance. All of us know that this country is a country of immigrants. Not everyone was able to come here by choice, so America didn’t always get it right, but we continue to strive to make sure there is opportunity for all. That’s what we’re about. The fact that the country is such an attraction is an important point to remember. But we are a country of laws, we have a transparent judiciary to enforce those laws, and, frankly, you can’t treat those abiding by the law, acting legally, in the same way you treat those who came here illegally. So there’s this balance. All the other concerns that enter the debate are being discussed in both chambers right now.

I’m hoping that we can come together on areas where we agree. We all accept the notion that we can benefit from the best and the brightest coming here. We believe in supporting the innovative culture we have here through a STEM visa revision. The visa laws are antiquated and need to be fixed. Everyone also believes that we ought to be doing everything we can to secure the border.

At the same time, the part of the issue regarding children is something we can all rally around. Kids were brought here through no fault of their own, or brought here unbeknownst to them and never lived anywhere else. I think the compassion in all of us says those kids deserve a chance to be Americans. I think we can all come together one these areas of the immigration issue, if we can’t do a larger bill.

COSTA: So you’re open to a comprehensive bill?

CANTOR: We’re watching to see how it plays out. The Senate has taken that route. [House judiciary committee chairman] Bob Goodlatte is going to be reviewing and considering individual pieces of the package, and we are looking to his leadership on that committee as we go forward.

COSTA: The buzz is that if the Gang of Eight’s plan gets 70 or 80 votes in the Senate, you are going to be under a lot of pressure to bring it to the House floor.

CANTOR: Come on. This town is full of pressure, both good and bad. The way to go about it is to do what Chairman Goodlatte is doing. It is a very deliberative approach, and that’s what we should be doing.