Friday 24 October 2014

Cantor loss 'hits immigration move'

Published 12/06/2014 | 06:32

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suffered a stunning defeat in the Virginia primary (AP)

Both Republicans and Democrats say the resignation of US House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor could signal the demise of immigration legislation sought by Barack Obama and hurts the US president's second-term agenda.

Mr Cantor announced he will resign his leadership post at the end of next month, clearing the way for a potentially disruptive Republican shake-up just before mid-term elections, with control of Congress at stake.

Republican Mr Cantor made his announcement less than 24 hours after losing a primary election to David Brat, a little-known and underfunded rival backed by the ultra-conservative Tea Party wing of his party.

Mr Brat campaigned against immigration legislation, saying Mr Cantor is likely to help immigrants living in the United States illegally gain amnesty if given a new term in the House.

Conservatives will now be emboldened in their opposition to legislation to create such a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, while party leaders who are sympathetic to such legislation may well be less willing to try.

But Mr Obama disputed the notion that Mr Cantor's surprise loss crushed the prospects of House Republican leaders putting an immigration bill on the floor this year.

The US president said: "It's interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts, and some conventional wisdom talks about how the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now.

"I fundamentally reject that and I will tell the speaker of the House he needs to reject it."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham had been deeply involved in passing the Senate immigration bill and still defeated his primary opponents on Tuesday night.

Mr Cantor was also involved in Republican attempts to develop an alternative to Obama's health care law that Republicans want to repeal.

Fellow Republicans set leadership elections for June 19, assuring that any campaigning would be brief.

Even before Mr Cantor's announcement, jockeying had broken out among fellow Republicans eager to move up the House leadership ladder - or establish a foothold on it.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the party whip and third-ranking leader, informed fellow Republicans he intended to run to succeed Mr Cantor.

Pete Sessions also made clear his interest, with fellow Texan Jeb Hensarling also eyeing a candidacy, with the state's delegation was working to prevent any intramural competition.

Mr Cantor, 51, sounding like anything but a man ready to retire from politics, said he will serve out his term and be active this fall for Republican candidates.

"What divides Republicans pales in comparison to what divides us as conservatives from the left and their Democratic allies," he said.

Accused by Tea Party critics of being too accommodating on immigration and other issues, and criticised by Democrats for being inflexible, Mr Cantor said he had struck the right balance.

"I think that this town should be about trying to strike common ground," he said.

The resignation marks a swift end to a quick rise to power for Mr Cantor, 51, who was elected to Congress in 2000, was appointed to the leadership two years later, before rising steadily to become the second-most powerful Republican in the House.

In that post, he was the most powerful Jewish Republican in Congress, and occasionally was seen as a potential rival to Speaker John Boehner, but more often as a likely successor.

Mr Brat begins the autumn campaign as a decided favourite in the race against Democratic rival Jack Trammell in a solidly Republican Richmond-area district.

His primary triumph was by far the biggest of the 2014 campaign season for Tea Party forces, although last week they forced veteran Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran into a June 24 runoff, with Senator Chris McDaniel.

Press Association

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