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Boehner, Cantor Make Uneasy Partnership

Old Tensions Appear to Have Faded, for Now

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Presumptive Speaker John Boehner (above) has seen firsthand the effects of a fractured leadership team, and he appears to be working to build a smoother relationship with Rep. Eric Cantor, likely to be the Majority Leader in the 112th Congress.

The top two leaders of the new House Republican majority have been getting along well lately, but don’t expect the presumptive Speaker and Majority Leader to share a golf cart anytime soon. 

Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) have appeared to be mostly on the same page over the past few weeks as they usher in an unusually large crop of freshman Republicans and prepare to take control the House. 

However, the two have shared a tense relationship over the years, and outside Republican observers suggest they are likely to butt heads at some point as the 112th Congress gets under way.

Even before the elections, the two leaders appeared to be diverging on some issues, with earmarks being the most public. In October, Cantor called for a permanent moratorium on earmarks, effectively one-upping Boehner, who said at that time that the incoming Republican Conference would have to make that decision. On Friday, the pair teamed up to write a joint statement urging the president to support an immediate ban on the practice.

Two days after the midterm elections, Boehner said he supported a permanent ban.

“They both need to keep the right flank happy,” one Republican lobbyist said. “Cantor more so because of what he hopes to do in the future.” 

The lobbyist added: “Maybe two years ago, Boehner would have been fighting Cantor off on his right flank to prove he’s as conservative. I just feel like he’s more comfortable now.”

One former leadership aide agreed Boehner would be less inclined to confront Cantor than he has been with other rivals in the past. 

“As soon as he knew they were going to get a majority, he changed his profile to humble leader, statesman-like, accepting the election results,” the former Republican leadership aide said. “Cantor is freer to get a little more partisan. ... I think they are filling their roles pretty well at this point. You do sense a little tension, but I don’t see it spilling over into hostility at this point.”

Rob Collins, a former top Cantor aide, said both leaders are well aware that a fractured leadership team can hurt the entire Republican Conference. 

“It’s probably the strongest I’ve ever seen them,” Collins said. “The way they operate is completely different but complementary.” 

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