In Debt Ceiling Talks, Cantor Moves Into The Spotlight

Originally published on July 15, 2011 4:42 pm
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GOP: Mr. Schapiro, thanks for being with us.

JEFF SCHAPIRO: Thanks for having me.

: Now first, a bit of background. Cantor is 48 years old. He's served in Congress since 2001. Give us a very quick sketch of his background and his bio.

SCHAPIRO: He was first elected to office in 1990, took a seat in the Virginia Legislature, the House of Delegates where he earned his first nickname Overdog. He had one of the best business-friendly records of any member of the Virginia Legislature.

: How would you describe his political style?

SCHAPIRO: The political style, the very public political style is very different from the private style. One on one, he's very engaging. He likes to gossip. He's got a good sense of humor. Politically, he can come across as a bit rigid, though in terms of the theatrics of politics, he has greatly improved. If one goes through his campaign spending reports, you'll see that he's spent a few shekels on, shall we say, speaking lessons, coaching on his public style.

: Several political analysts, especially this week, have suggested that Cantor has, in some ways, essentially upstaged Boehner in these negotiations. What is the relationship like between these two men? Cantor is in his 40s, Boehner's in his 60s.

SCHAPIRO: And clearly, given the dynamics within the House Republican Conference, the rising Tea Party presence, which Cantor himself is trying to harness, that it's just a matter of time before the gentleman from Henrico makes a play for the speaker's gavel.

: He has a leadership position with the Young Guns. Does the Tea Party element of the party also see him as a leader of their faction?

SCHAPIRO: The Tea Party element of the Republican Party is very wary of Eric Cantor and that perhaps a lot of this is lost. Keep in mind that Eric Cantor has voted without question for increases in the debt ceiling. Eric Cantor voted for two un-financed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eric Cantor voted for an unpaid-for expansion of Medicare, specifically the drug benefit. And he voted for that big bank bailout that the Bush administration pushed in its closing hours.

: Is there evidence of bipartisanship in his portfolio?

SCHAPIRO: No. Keep in mind this is what happens when one represents a reflexively Republican district. What Cantor has to do to remain viable in his home state is always watch out for his right. And what it means is that the middle and the left is pretty much overlooked, ignored, maybe even neglected.

: Jeff Schapiro is a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Mr. Schapiro, thank you very much.

SCHAPIRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.