Eric Cantor Makes a Civil-Rights Pilgrimage

The House GOP leader made another civil-rights trip, and looks forward to how his party will reach out to more voters.

Cantor: Pro-repeal spinner.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
See more stories about...
Elahe Izadi
March 10, 2014, 10:08 a.m.

The No. 2 House Re­pub­lic­an joined the an­nu­al Con­gres­sion­al Civil Rights Pil­grim­age this week­end, at a time when the fu­ture of the Vot­ing Rights Act is murky and the GOP is look­ing to make in­roads among minor­ity com­munit­ies.

This was the second time that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor joined the trip, led an­nu­ally by Rep. John Lewis and or­gan­ized by the non­profit Faith and Polit­ics In­sti­tute. Last year, Can­tor be­came the highest-rank­ing Re­pub­lic­an to ever par­ti­cip­ate in the 14-year his­tory of the event.

“It has ad­ded, cer­tainly, to the know­ledge base of the civil-rights move­ment, and I do think that just go­ing through this ex­per­i­ence with col­leagues is something that helps break down bar­ri­ers and will help fa­cil­it­ate prob­lem-solv­ing go­ing for­ward,” Can­tor told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

D.C. Del­eg­ate Elean­or Holmes Norton shared her ex­per­i­ences as a law stu­dent who had come to Mis­sis­sippi to help or­gan­ize the Free­dom Sum­mer. Par­ti­cipants on the pil­grim­age also marched across the Ed­mund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, a com­mem­or­a­tion of the 49th an­niversary of Bloody Sunday. Lewis, who served as chair­man of the Stu­dent Non­vi­ol­ent Co­ordin­at­ing Com­mit­tee at the time, was beaten badly dur­ing that demon­stra­tion. And the hor­rif­ic im­ages of peace­ful march­ers be­ing at­tacked by au­thor­it­ies helped to cre­ate the mo­mentum that led to con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al of the Vot­ing Rights Act. 

Now Con­gress is con­sid­er­ing a re­write to a sec­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act, after the Su­preme Court struck down key por­tions of the mo­nu­ment­al civil-rights le­gis­la­tion. The re­write, from Reps. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, a Re­pub­lic­an, and John Con­yers, a Demo­crat, would cre­ate a new for­mula that would re­vive fed­er­al over­sight of vot­ing laws for just four states. Be­fore the Su­preme Court rul­ing, all or part of 15 states were covered un­der the le­gis­la­tion.

This less-rig­or­ous meas­ure has drawn cri­ti­cism from some law­makers and civil-rights groups. “We’re walk­ing a nar­row line,” Con­yers has told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “If we over­reach, we will lose Re­pub­lic­an votes. But if we don’t go far enough, we will lose votes on our own side.” Some Re­pub­lic­ans have said that an­oth­er sec­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act, un­touched by the Court, provides suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tions.

When asked if the House will vote on the meas­ure this year and what his po­s­i­tion is on the le­gis­lat­ive fix, Can­tor noted the cri­ti­cisms of the amend­ment and said he has dis­cussed the sug­ges­ted changes with the NAACP and its coun­sel as well as with some Demo­crats. 

“We’re work­ing on it,” Can­tor said. “Again, I would like to be able to ad­dress the con­cerns that are out there so that we can move for­ward.”

Can­tor’s par­ti­cip­a­tion in the pil­grim­age comes also after the GOP re­ceived some cri­ti­cism in 2013 when no elec­ted Re­pub­lic­ans par­ti­cip­ated in the March on Wash­ing­ton an­niversary event on the Mall, due to a series of schedul­ing con­flicts, health prob­lems, and late in­vit­a­tions.

But this pil­grim­age is more low-key, an an­nu­al event that typ­ic­ally draws mostly loc­al and re­gion­al press. Can­tor ap­pears to have made a habit of go­ing on the trip; he at­ten­ded last year, and this year he was joined two House Re­pub­lic­ans from Mis­sis­sippi, Gregg Harp­er and Alan Nunnelee. Can­tor said he would like more Re­pub­lic­ans to par­ti­cip­ate in the fu­ture.

“It’s really im­port­ant, be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans are about people, and we want res­ults to try and im­prove the op­por­tun­ity for every­body in this coun­try,” he said while on the trip. “And if we could get the de­bate in Wash­ing­ton centered around help­ing people and then let the de­bate be about what is the best way to do that — I’m hope­ful that be­ing here, we can fa­cil­it­ate that kind of dia­logue between the two sides, so that per­haps we can be suc­cess­ful in tear­ing down some of the pre­con­ceived no­tions that are built up for a vari­ety of reas­ons.”

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×