Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, gave his final speech in that capacity yesterday.
It was a heartfelt speech, and it got him a bipartisan standing ovation. Today he announced that he’s quitting Congress before his term is up; a primary challenger defeated him in June.
Cantor was the only Republican Jew in Congress and the most senior Jewish lawmaker in U.S. history.
His speech is below. Several points:
—Cantor never deemphasized his Jewishness, and he does not do so here. He mentions early on his grandparents flight from repression, a history that clearly has shaped his political outlook.
—He includes a gracious nod to Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, with whom Cantor often collaborated on pro-Israel initiatives. It comes in the context of his concerns about the diminishing of American leadership abroad. He made this point a lot in the months prior to his primary defeat, explicitly criticizing President Obama, but also implicitly targeting a festering isolationism within his own party.
—Cantor rode the Tea Party wave into the Republican victory in 2010, and embraced some of that movement’s resistance to cooperation with Democrats. He and Obama did not get along. Yet here he seems wistful; he insists that the Congresses he helped lead were not as deeply divided as reports would have it.
Here’s the speech:
“Thank you Mr. Speaker.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as Majority Leader of this distinguished body. I look around this remarkable chamber, and I see so many friends and colleagues who have inspired me, and who have inspired this Congress to do great things for the American people.
“Walking into this building and walking onto this floor is something that excited me every day since I was first elected to Congress. As it should. Not one of us should ever take for granted the awesome honor and responsibility we have to serve our fellow Americans.
“This is a privilege of a lifetime. I think of the sacrifices that helped me rise to serve the people of Virginia’s 7th District. My grandparents fled religious persecution in Europe in order to find a better life. My Grandmother, a young Jewish widow, was soon raising my Dad above a grocery store in Richmond, just trying to make ends meet. And so it goes, two generations later, her grandson would represent part of what was James Madison’s seat in the House and then go on to serve as its Majority Leader. I have truly lived the American Dream.
“That is what this country is supposed to be about: dreaming big; believing that each generation can do better than the last. Unfortunately, we have seen that dream erode in recent years, and our nation faces many challenges. Too many are left wondering if we can be an America that works, an America that leads.
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