Soon-to-be former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was not just reportedly unavailable to the constituents in his own district, Cantor made himself reliably unavailable to Capitol Hill reporters when his staff stopped his weekly pen and pad pressers with reporters almost two years ago.
Cantor, who lost his primary on Tuesday to George Mason University economics professor Dave Brat, emphasized at a press conference “that all politics is local.” But Cantor’s distant nature from his constituents, Capitol Hill press, and local district reporters may have contributed to his fall from a Republican leadership pedestal. Reporters on Capitol Hill last year told Breitbart their frustration about trying to connect with Cantor.
“He’s the guy that wants to be speaker that never speaks to reporters,” one reporter noted to Breitbart News.
Up until his announcement at a Wednesday presser that he would step down from his position as Majority Leader on July 31, Cantor rarely, if ever, took questions from Capitol Hill media by himself for long periods of time like other leaders in the House and Senate do on a weekly basis. This has been the case since his staff nixed his weekly pen and pads in 2011. D.C. reporters suspected he had ambitions to become speaker but did not like to defend his arguments without other Republican members around him.
“It’s ludicrous he doesn’t do a [pen and pad] anymore. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) did it during the health care debate. Dick Armey did it during the [’95 government] shutdown,” one reporter told Breitbart News in 2013. “What’s the big deal? He can’t stand up in front of press corps for 30 or 40 minutes? As far as I know he’s the only leader who doesn’t do a weekly pen and pad.”
According to Politico, Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon defended the eventual decision to axe the traditional pen and pad majority leaders of the past have hosted, saying, “Due to a multitude of recent complaints about the pen and pad, our office is evaluating the usefulness of this venue to members of the press heading into the new year.”
“It is not productive for journalists of different media outlets to argue with each other over such mundane issues, and several objections we received this week made it clear that many in the press corps have concerns with our pen and pad. Going forward, we will continue to explore options that foster a productive and equitable environment for press engagement with Leader Cantor,” Fallon added.
The “complaints” stem from a 2011 pen and pad where a CBS 60 Minutes camera was allowed into the press gathering for a profile on Cantor. Ordinarily, network cameras are not part of pen and pad conferences. However, other TV networks insisted it was only fair if one network was allowed in, they should be able to pool camera resources.
Hill reporters say that Cantor’s staff used the incident as an “excuse” to get rid of a press format in which Cantor does not perform well. This format consists of a thirty minute to one hour sit down in the lawmaker’s conference room with online and print reporters asking a range of questions to the member.
“He’s the one who [is] in charge of the floor, and he should be available just like his predecessors were. We should know the agenda,” a reporter said, adding, “He just doesn’t like tough questions.”
Cantor’s office considers the Majority Leader’s weekly press conference after the caucus’s conference meeting one of the best times for Capitol Hill reporters to ask questions of the Virginia congressman.
However, this particular press conference includes not only Cantor but also Boehner and other GOP leadership. Reporters argue that questions will more often be asked of the speaker even if the majority leader is present. “You’re usually going to ask your question of the guy at top if he’s there,” said a media source on the Hill.
“He thinks that reporters don’t like him and I wonder if that has anything to do with not wanting to spend time with us,” explains a D.C. based journalist.
House Minority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) continues his weekly pen and pad gatherings, while the other leaders in both parties and chambers will answer questions from the media in their own weekly pressers. House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and Sen. Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) each answer questions at their weekly pressers.
“This guy gets his a** handed to him on the floor of the House when he does soliloquys with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) because he is never really challenged by anyone,” a Capitol Hill reporter said.
Breitbart News learned from Capitol Hill sources that Cantor has off-the-record dinners with select larger media outlets from time to time. “He’s tightly managed and only looks at legislative reporters on the Hill as cogs in a machine that won’t further him,” one reporter noted.
Some Capitol Hill journalists simply gave up on the majority leader. As one reporter mentioned, “I don’t even bother talking to him anymore, because I know I won’t get a response from him.”