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President Obama and congressional leaders, including Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., far left, at a 2009 meeting.

Charles Dharapak • Associated Press,

For White House, there is little joy in Cantor’s defeat

  • Article by: Julie Pace
  • Associated Press
  • June 12, 2014 - 7:46 PM

– For years, the White House saw House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a chief driver of Republicans’ staunch opposition to nearly all of President Obama’s agenda. Now, Cantor’s stunning primary loss seems likely to make politics even more ­difficult for Obama.

Rather than opening a pathway for the president, Cantor’s defeat could push Republicans more to the right and harden the House GOP’s hostility toward the White House, virtually dooming Obama’s efforts to pass an immigration bill or other major legislation.

Robert Gibbs, a longtime Obama aide, said glee over Cantor’s loss was “quickly replaced by the reality that this is the end of anything productive getting done legislatively.”

Cantor, the House’s No. 2 Republican, was defeated by his Tea Party-backed opponent, an economics professor named David Brat, in Virginia’s GOP primary Tuesday. Brat rode a wave of public anger over calls for more lenient immigration laws, reducing the prospects that already reluctant House Republicans might take up a bill this year.

Cantor’s surprise defeat was accompanied by a steady stream of gloating from congressional Democrats. Yet Brat promises to be even more uncompromising than Cantor.

Under different circumstances, the White House likely would have cheered Cantor’s defeat. Their relationship got off to a rocky start days after Obama’s inauguration, when the new president chided Cantor for pushing an economic proposal. “Elections have consequences and, Eric, I won,” Obama said then.

It was more than frosty interactions that irked the White House. Obama’s advisers frequently claimed that Cantor undermined deals Obama struck with House Speaker John Boehner.

In recent months, the White House increasingly saw Cantor as the main impediment to Boehner’s bringing immigration legislation to the House floor, where it almost certainly would pass. Obama’s advisers had hoped that if Cantor pulled off a solid victory in his primary, he might give Boehner the green light to proceed.

The seeming death knell for immigration legislation also has big implications for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Some GOP leaders have urged the party to back an immigration overhaul to boost the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

But Republicans who seek their party’s 2016 nomination now appear likely to face the tricky choice between staking out conservative positions that could help them win the primary and more moderate stances that could play well in the general election.

© 2014 Star Tribune