Eric Cantor, the combative second-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, launched a major rebranding of his party on Tuesday, saying he hoped Republicans and President Barack Obama could “set differences aside” in the interest of helping ordinary Americans.
While not endorsing comprehensive immigration reforms backed by Obama, he did express openness on the subject in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, saying he favored providing “an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.”
That appeared to represent a reversal for Cantor, who in 2010 voted against the Dream Act, which would have cleared the way for such young people to remain in the United States.
“I’m pleased that many of my colleagues in both chambers of Congress on both sides of the aisle have begun work in good faith to address these issues,” Cantor said.
Cantor gave little ground on any of the other differences between House Republicans and Obama in his speech, which his office billed as a major policy address.
Indeed, even as Cantor was speaking, Republican leaders and Obama were exchanging barbs in their latest standoff over deficit reduction, one likely to lead to $85 billion in damaging across-the-board budget cuts in March.
But the change in tone from one of the most partisan leaders of the House, who has helped lead the Republican charge against virtually everything Obama has proposed since taking office in 2009, was striking.
It followed months of rethinking among Republicans about their image among Americans following Obama’s victory in the November election and their recent retreat from a battle they had looked forward to over the nation’s borrowing limit.
Cantor made only passing reference to the bitter fights with Obama over “cliffs, debt ceilings and budgets” in which he has played such a visible role.
It is time, he said, to focus on “what lies beyond” them, including education, jobs, healthcare and innovation.
“Over the next two years, the House Majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families,” Cantor said.