RICHMOND, VA - House Majority Leader Eric Cantor faced criticism over immigration from both sides of the issue Wednesday, laying bare the rough politics on his home turf even as President Barack Obama sought to increase pressure on House Republicans to act.
Cantor's tea party opponent in Virginia's June 10 GOP primary, Dave Brat, convened a press conference on the steps of the Virginia Capitol to label Cantor a top cheerleader for "amnesty" in the House, citing Cantor's support for action on certain immigration measures.
A short time later, in a conference room inside the state Capitol, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a leading proponent of overhauling immigration laws, held his own press conference to accuse Cantor of standing in the way of action 11 months after the Senate passed a bipartisan bill with billions for border security and a path to citizenship for the 11.5 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
"Allow America to have a vote," Gutierrez implored. Several immigrants who are facing deportation orders joined him.
The developments came a day after Obama sought to ratchet up pressure on House GOP leaders by delaying until late summer the results of a review of the nation's deportation policy. White House officials said they wanted to preserve the opportunity for the House to act in the narrow window before Congress' annual August recess and November midterm elections.
Just how unlikely that is was underscored by Cantor's response this past week to Brat's attacks on immigration. Cantor sent a flier to voters in his district boasting of shutting down a plan to "give illegal aliens amnesty."
That strong message was a changed tone for Cantor, who has repeatedly voiced support for giving citizenship to certain immigrants brought illegally to the country as children. Last year Cantor joined Gutierrez and other lawmakers on a three-day tour of immigration-related sites in New York aimed at increasing awareness of the issue.
Brat dismissed the new tone from Cantor as politics and flip-flopping.
"Eric Cantor saying he opposes amnesty is like Barack Obama saying he opposes Obamacare," Brat said.
Cantor's campaign spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Cantor, who is in his seventh term and has won re-election easily, is not seen as vulnerable to the challenge from Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College. But he is also seen as next in line to be speaker in the House, and appears eager to shore up his support from conservatives.
Gutierrez said his appearance in Cantor's district was unrelated to the Virginia primary. But several Cantor critics, including Brat, noted that Gutierrez' appearance could actually help Cantor by reinforcing the image of an anti-amnesty crusader he seeks to project.