On Thursday, Eric Cantor asked to address the House floor for one minute. The Republican from Virginia spoke for longer than that, but the speaker didn’t cut him off. Cantor’s remarks were to be his last as House majority leader.
“Walking into this building and walking on to this floor is something that excited me every day since I was first elected to Congress,” Cantor told a packed room, calling his job the “privilege of a lifetime.”
“I have truly lived the American dream,” he added.
Cantor officially steps down as House majority leader, a post he has held since 2011, at midnight Thursday. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., whom Cantor called his “closest confidant,” replaces him. Cantor lost his Republican Virginia primary in June to a near-unknown challenger, an outcome that stunned Washington.
The outgoing No. 2 House Republican listed a number of policy issues facing the nation. “During my time here, we have made some progress on some of these issues,” he said, referring to education and economic inequality, “but frankly, not enough.”
He had positive words for future legislation. “This Congress, the House, has passed many bills, some of which were bipartisan, to help create jobs and opportunities for those who desperately need them,” he said. “I hope more of those bills will make it to the president’s desk before year’s end.”
His outlook on foreign policy was a little darker. “I shudder to think what the world looks like in five years for us and our allies if we don’t steel our resolve and stand tall with those who stand with us,” Cantor said.
The congressman’s remarks sounded a little like a graduation speech as he thanked his family, staff, fellow House members, and Speaker John Boehner.
Cantor acknowledged that he and Boehner didn’t always see eye to eye, “but that’s how it’s supposed to be.” To Boehner, Cantor said: “Thank you for the example of firm leadership you show and at the same time for not being afraid to show us all your kind heart on your soft spot from time to time.” Boehner appeared to reveal said soft spot, as reporters in the room say the speaker began to tear up and reached for a handkerchief.
Cantor’s remarks received a standing ovation and several rounds of cheers. The lawmaker received the same response during a closed-door meeting of Republicans on Tuesday, which featured a highlight reel of Cantor’s most memorable moments in Congress.
Cantor has kept a low profile in recent weeks. Since his defeat in June, he has not appeared at a GOP leadership press conference and has missed 30 floor votes, or about 20 percent, The Hill reported Wednesday. He will stay on as a member of Congress until the end of this year.
Cantor has said that although his primary loss “absolutely” shocked him, he’s not going to dwell on it. “There are things that happen for a reason, and we may not be able to really discern it now,” he said in a Sunday talk-show appearance. “And, given the perspective of time, I think we’ll be able to look back at this, which seemed really bad at the time, may turn out to be really good.”