Rep. Eric Cantor yesterday on Capitol Hill.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Cantor Ascends to Majority Leader

Highest-ever-ranking Jewish legislator has rough first day

Allison Hoffman
January 05, 2011
Rep. Eric Cantor yesterday on Capitol Hill.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Today, the 112th Congress opens and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor assumes apparently the highest position ever held by a Jewish legislator. Under the new Republican majority, the 47-year-old Cantor, formerly the minority whip, becomes House Majority Leader and second-in-command to the new Speaker, John Boehner, who will take the gavel from Nancy Pelosi. (In case you were wondering, no, this does not put Cantor in line for presidential succession.) Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in this Congress, though Tea Partier Nan Hayworth (R-Kiryas Joel) says she considers herself an honorary Jew on account of being married to one.

Last night, the Republican Jewish Coalition threw a party for Cantor at D.C. power hangout The Capital Grille, complete with an ice sculpture and photo ops with GOP presidential hopefuls John Thune, the South Dakota senator, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Also there: The man who, despite Cantor’s formal role, arguably remains the most powerful Jew on the Hill, Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Cantor told the crowd that his rapid rise was proof that, in America, “It doesn’t matter where you come from.” (In his case, Richmond, Virginia, where his widowed Russian grandmother once ran a grocery.)

He apparently got a warm response, which we hope he savored, because this morning’s press wasn’t good. First, the National Journal spotlighted Cantor’s “departure” from Republican insistence that it will not touch national security funding as it endeavors to cut the budget. Then the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote a scathing item ripping apart Cantor’s claim that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office misrepresented the costs of the Democrats’ signature health-care bill—which Cantor and the rest of the Republican leadership plans to try to repeal. Cantor’s spokesman, Brad Dayspring, quickly stepped in and clarified that his boss certainly did not mean to cross the line between criticizing the Democratic health-care bill and criticizing the hardworking CBO. “He said nothing of the sort,” according to Dayspring. He never seems to.

Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.