House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday sought to downplay talk of testy relations between himself and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., but he did say there are “rumbles” between their staffs at times.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are seeking to make political hay, and even comedy, over the prospect that the top two House Republican leaders, or their top staffers, may not be fond of each other but are trying to make up.
The questioning of Boehner about his relationship with Cantor came on the heels of a Politico story Thursday morning reporting efforts by the two Republican leaders’ offices to call a “truce” after a year of behind-the-scenes infighting.
“We are teammates, and we have been teammates. And I can tell you that I don’t think there’s been a disagreement between Eric and I over the course of the last year,” Boehner insisted during a news conference.
Boehner also said he had just had a meeting with other House GOP leaders and senior staffers earlier in the morning about their need to continue working together, “so I feel good about where we are.”
Boehner did not respond directly to a question about Politico’s reporting that his chief of staff, Barry Jackson, and Cantor’s chief of staff, Steve Stombres, are hardly on speaking terms.
“Clearly aware there have been a couple of staff rumbles from time to time, but that’s to be expected when you do big business,” said Boehner, at one point.
“When you’re trying your work in this setting, you’re going to have some very passionate people,” Boehner said. “Members of our [staffs]—they’re passionate about what they do. Sometimes that leads to disagreement.”
News outlets, including National Journal, have reported in recent weeks a concerted effort by House Republican leaders to project a more united front this election year, one of the big themes of their issues retreat two weeks ago in Baltimore.
In fact, NJ had reported, both Boehner and Cantor were dressed down by some rank-and-file Republicans during a feisty closed-door meeting on Jan. 20—the night before the start of the retreat—about whether they might be working at odds with each other. Some House GOP members have described their disappointment in how 2011 turned out for them legislatively as having been underscored by what they saw as confusion in their top ranks over strategy in the fight over the payroll-tax holiday in December. They say the whole emphasis since the retreat is to reflect a GOP conference “on the same page.”
House Democrats were having a field day on Thursday seizing on the idea that Boehner and Cantor, or their staffs, or both, don’t get along—but are now trying to. When they were in the majority, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her No. 2 Democrat, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., often were the focus of similar stories about their tense relations.
On Thursday morning, Pelosi’s office put out a mock “memo” to House GOP leadership on the topic: “Time to Reset Your Focus on Jobs & Give Daytime TV the Drama Back.” The memo begins: “At a time when millions of Americans are out of work and you refuse to advance a jobs agenda, your interoffice tensions are the worst-kept secret in town.”
It then goes on: “So it is heartwarming to hear that ‘like two warring nations’ you are finally ready to click the ‘reset button.’ … As you attempt to turn over a new leaf on your ‘bitter year of behind-the-scenes fighting,’ it’s time to focus on America’s top priority and the one you have been missing all along: job creation.”
And a number of spokesmen for House Democrats are tweeting their offerings of popular songs that might help bring Boehner and Cantor closer together at #thespeakerandtherestless.
Suggestions so far include: “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Hard to Say I Am Sorry,” and “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore.”
“We appreciate the song suggestions from our Democratic friends. Hopefully listening to them will finally warm what Wikipedia notes is a ‘frosty relationship’ between [Pelosi and Hoyer] over the last decade,” responded Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, Brad Dayspring.