If you weren’t closely watching the inane goings on of yesterday’s fiscal cliff dance, you might have missed the part when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor led a minyan of Republicans to vote against the measure.
“I’m with Eric Cantor. I can’t vote for it in its current form, and for a good reason,” the California Republican Darrell Issa said on CNN.
The deal eventually passed, but Cantor will have scored points for holding steady on a flawed agreement. Cantor wasn’t done though. According to reports, Cantor also tweaked Speaker of the House John Boehner last night by calling New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to tell him that the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill had been shelved. Christie, not known for his reticence, excoriated both Boehner and the “toxic internal politics” of House Republicans in a press conference today.
“There is only one group to blame,” Christie said. “The House Majority and John Boehner.”
In the press conference, Christie also went out of his way to praise Cantor’s commitment to the cause.
Eric Cantor has always struck an odd figure as the lone Jewish Republican in the 112th Congress. At the beginning of the term, our own senior writer and font of political wisdom Allison Hoffman scribed a brilliant profile of Cantor. Here’s some of what she wrote:
“You know, my faith goes with me in everything I do,” Cantor told me when I asked about his sole Jewish-Republican status. He talked about his upbringing in a traditional Jewish home and his efforts to raise his children with strong Jewish identities. “You know, again, I don’t think you ever go far from sort of the moral compass that you were given when you were brought up in faith,” he said. “So I can only say that I grew up in a very active and vibrant Jewish community, and then a larger civic community in Richmond that didn’t happen to be Jewish also contributed to who I am and what kind of officeholder I hopefully am.”
Many Jewish politicians, when they find themselves speaking to Jewish audiences, find it tempting to toss off one-liners like they’re in the Catskills or drop other sorts of yiddishkeit. But, as one Richmond observer pointed out, Cantor “doesn’t come across as ethnic.” Instead, he pitches his affiliation as a religious one, just like a Catholic might: His model is not Joe Lieberman, but his mentor Tom Bliley. “We live in a country that is built on the Judeo-Christian traditions, but most important we are people that believe in religious freedom,” Cantor told me. “And I lived that. I was honored to have served in the Virginia House of Delegates, and I looked every day at the plaque on the wall, the marble etching on the wall in the House of Delegates chamber in Mr. Jefferson’s capital, of his Statute of Religious Freedom, that obviously was then built into the Bill of Rights.” He paused. “You know, when you live in a community in which Jews are in the minority, you also begin to understand the beauty of our framers and the Constitution and the fact that there is no state religion, nor should the state preclude anyone from practicing his or her faith. It goes back to sort of the equality that we thrive on.”
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.