What the Departure of Eric Cantor Means for National Security
Posted at 4:41 p.m. on June 13, 2014
Cantor, right, and Boehner attend a news conference at the RNC after a meeting of the Republican caucus on March 5. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Everyone is still digesting the fallout from this week’s surprise primary election defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., but the part related to its effect on national security and foreign policy is pretty well-chewed, enough to examine it as a whole.
There’s little doubt that as a party leader, Cantor emphasized a number of national security and foreign policy issues that could suffer in some ways with him leaving. Those topics are about to get a little bit less of a push than they might had he remained — and perhaps even a push in the opposite direction. Additionally, there will be one less vote in favor of some of those stances should they come to a close standoff in the House, as Cantor’s conqueror, David Brat — should he win the general election — is opposite him on several issues, or might be.
One of them is surveillance. Timothy B. Lee of Vox makes the case that the National Security Agency lost an ally and that his prospective replacement is very different. (Aside: It’s true that Cantor defended the NSA following the Edward Snowden leaks, but it’s also true that pretty much every other Hill party leader did the same, regardless of party affiliation.)
Jennifer Rubin argues that his defeat is a blow for hawkish conservative views — “Let’s be honest: On foreign policy, Cantor was an unalloyed plus for national security, for democracy promotion and for standing up to jihadists and dictators” — before ending up on the position that while his departure is a negative given his attention and voice on national security, it’s not a big blow to the party as a whole based on the stances of other GOP leaders. But here’s an area where we don’t know much about Brat. Rubin points out Cantor’s support for military action in Syria, while Brat ducked the question of arming Syrian rebels this week.
For CQ subscribers, Jonathan Broder concludes that Israel is losing a prominent friend on Capitol Hill, although here is one of the areas where, a source with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee contends, pro-Israel lawmakers in leadership only tend to give way to more pro-Israel lawmakers in leadership.
By the same turn, one of the more vocal and active members in all of Congress on Iran is Cantor. The Nation’s Ali Gharib quotes an activist as noting that on Iran, Cantor was the most influential member of House GOP leadership, with House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, ceding control of the subject to him. It’s not as if anyone who’s pro-Iran is about to take Cantor’s place either in leadership or with his vote, but the U.S. policy toward Tehran is losing a pretty big rabble rouser.
For CQ subscribers, John M. Donnelly has brought up a two-pronged point about the Cantor effect on defense: Cantor’s defeat could frighten hawkish Republicans and embolden Tea Party Republicans in a way that could make defense programs more vulnerable to the broader anti-federal spending sentiment in the Tea Party movement; and Virginia, home to a lot of defense contractors, has seen (and will continue to see) a steady dwindling of Virginia lawmakers in a position of power to stick up for the industry.
Strangely enough, the defense agenda is likely to get a short-term boost next week as a result of the Cantor fallout, as the fiscal 2015 defense spending bill is viewed as an easier target to move on the House floor than a planned push for the agriculture spending measure, amid the jostling over who will replace Cantor in leadership. That’s per Philip Brasher, also writing for CQ.
So who might replace him in leadership? Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., represents a district where two military bases are the largest employers, and Raytheon is his biggest campaign contributor this cycle. He voted against ending the NSA’s phone record collection program last year; against banning indefinite detention of terrorist suspects captured in the United States in 2012; and in 2011, voted in favor of extending expiring provisions of the Patriot Act but against striking funding for the alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — although also in 2011, he voted against the use of ground troops in Libya and in favor of requiring the president to report on combat operations there. Those votes are identical to Cantor’s.
The other announced opponent is Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, and he voted opposite McCarthy on all those issues except Libya. Labrador faces an uphill climb against McCarthy.