Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor waves after addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 15, 2013. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/ AFP/ Getty Images.
As Republicans work to reassess their party message and policy prescriptions for America, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has stepped up his outreach to minority groups who helped to re-elect President Barack Obama last fall.
The Virginia Republican in recent weeks has done the rounds by paying tribute to major civil rights landmarks, giving speeches about the importance of diversifying his party and on Tuesday, spoke to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
According to prepared remarks sent over by Cantor’s press office, he relayed that in Congress he hopes to significantly fix the education system for the most vulnerable — that high unemployment is directly tied to a quality education.
“Suppose colleges provided prospective students with reliable information on the unemployment rate and potential earnings by major,” Cantor said during the keynote address at the legislative lunch. “Armed with this knowledge, students and their families could make better decisions about where to go to school, and how to budget their tuition dollars.”
Cantor concluded his speech vaguely alluding to the immigration debate: He told the story of his grandparents’ journey to the United States from Russia, and reminding the audience of their united front.
Cantor received the group’s USHCC’s Legislator of the Year Award. He also received the award in 2010.
In a recent speech at Harvard University, Cantor said it’s time for a change. “Our party needs to do a better job of getting to know different constituencies,” he said. “I am much about trying to force that to happen.”
Earlier this month GOP leader Cantor traveled to Selma, Ala., to mark the anniversary of what’s known as “Bloody Sunday.” In 1965, 600 non-violent protesters led by John Lewis, then chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge to highlight the need for voting rights protections in Alabama.
The bloody confrontation on the bridge was a pivotal event in the civil rights movement and outcry against the beatings eventually led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which opened up voting access for African-Americans. Lewis leads a bi-annual pilgrimage to Selma, and this year among those marching with him were Cantor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rev. Al Sharpton.
Few if any Republicans usually make the trip attend, and Cantor stood out in the crowd.
Lewis told the NewsHour that all members of Congress are invited. “He took us up on our invitation and I know he was sincere in his outreach. We have to always look for any way we can find common ground,” Lewis said.
Cantor hasn’t stopped there. Following the Alabama trip, he posted photos of that day on his website. Cantor said on the House floor he was “so proud to have been in Selma” and he announced that he, Lewis and two others are launching a new website, The House and Selma: Bridging History and Memory. Cantor said it will help preserve historic testimonies from lawmakers about their contributions to the civil rights movement. “Their stories are part of our nation’s heritage and serve as a reminder to every American of the determination and sacrifice that shaped the greater democracy we live in today,” he said.
Cantor also visited this winter a private school in New Orleans to push his education reform ideas. He toured a depressed area of Washington, D.C., north of Capitol Hill, that is undergoing gentrification.
Cantor pushed through legislation last week called the SKILLS Act, designed to improve the nation’s workforce through training. Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it eliminates or consolidates 35 separate jobs programs and will wind up killing the training systems for those who need it most, but Cantor muscled the bill through on a mostly party line vote 215-202.
Politico recently wrote about Cantor’s push making some Republicans uncomfortable.
On Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Cantor told the activists gathered about some poor families that he had met over the last few weeks. He said the GOP can provide an agenda steeped in conservative principles of limited government and freedom to help families, but also told the red-meat-craving crowd that they have their work cut for them.
“Let’s face it, the opposition is organized,” Cantor said. “President Obama and his allies believe that the best solutions to our ills is cradle-to-grave government support. It is hard to get anything done in Washington when common ground is being held hostage by tax hikes.”