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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) shocking defeat will shake up the chamber’s leadership but is unlikely to impact how Congress approaches issues like climate change and other environmental legislation, legislators said in more than a dozen interviews with Bloomberg BNA.
Democrats said House Republicans were already so opposed to climate change and environmental measures that new leadership would not make a substantial difference.
"This is going to take the prospects for positive developments from very bad to even worse,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of House Democratic leadership, said. “It’s not as if we imagine a lot happening in those areas before [Cantor’s defeat], but what this does is it probably buries the prospects of any progress for quite a while.”
Republicans agreed that Cantor’s loss would not have an impact on environmental and energy policies, but attributed it to tight party cohesion about how to approach the issues.
“I think our whole caucus—both in the House and Senate—is pretty united on the things we have to do to get a national energy plan,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said. “We’ll pretty much continue on the same track.”
Cantor, long-considered a likely future Speaker of the House, lost his June 10 Republican congressional primary to political novice and largely unknown economics professor Dave Brat. The majority leader will resign his leadership post effective July 31 but intends to serve out the reminder of his term.
Cantor’s Environmental Record Lacking.
One common fear among some in the aftermath of Cantor’s defeat is that a more conservative majority leader might further congressional gridlock and prevent meaningful legislative action. But, many Democrats said those fears would not apply to environmental legislation where they described Cantor’s record as already incredibly conservative.
“How much further [right] can you go?” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said “[House Republicans] sent us over 90 anti-environmental riders, so now they’re going to send us 95 or 100? There’s no difference between the Tea Party and Republican Party in the House in my opinion.”
Boxer said Cantor had made “zero” productive contributions to national environmental policy and said the only potential impact of his loss could be empowering committee chairman with additional power to drive the House legislative agenda.
“I don’t see this Cantor defeat changing the dynamics of the work I do except making it better if the chairmen get more power,” Boxer said.
Other Democrats like Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.), Ben Cardin (Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) said it was not yet clear how Cantor’s loss might affect environmental priorities in Congress.
Republicans Remain 'United.'
Several House and Senate lawmakers said Cantor’s loss underscored the importance of local issues in political races, but vowed the new leadership would not affect environmental or energy policy.
“Republicans are united on affordable energy—always have been, always will be,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of Senate Republican leadership, said. “Eric Cantor’s race shows that politics is local. You need to go home. You need to listen to the folks at home. I don’t think that has any impact on what’s happening on an energy standpoint.”
While most lawmakers believed Cantor’s loss would change little in Congress, at least one senior Democratic House member said new leadership offered a chance to reset the discussions on environmental and energy policy.
“I don’t know if Leader Cantor had any plans to do anything on those issues, but I’m hopeful his successor does,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said. “Hopefully the new leader will have an interest in getting things done around here.”
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