In a few weeks, on February 4, Rep. Eric Cantor, the new Majority Leader of the U.S. House, will be the main speaker and receive an honorary degree at Charter Day, the annual ceremony where the W&M community celebrates the anniversary of the royal charter that created the College back in 1693.
Cantor is a great choice for Charter Day speaker. For one, he is a 1988 graduate of the W&M law school and since 2000 has represented Virginia’s 7th district in the House. The 7th district includes much of Richmond and Henrico County and is home to many of our graduates and current students.
But local ties aside, Eric Cantor is also widely recognized on both sides of the partisan aisle as one of our smartest and most capable members of Congress. Shortly after his first election, Tom DeLay, then the House Republican Whip, recognized Cantor’s talents and made him part of the party whip system in the chamber as a freshman member. Cantor quickly rose to Chief Deputy Whip in 2003, and was unanimously elected House Republican Whip in 2009.
Within Congress, the whips help formulate their party’s legislative program, provide colleagues with information about bills and the floor schedule, and take the lead in lobbying wavering members to stay with the party position on major roll call votes, among other tasks. Their role in the coalition building process is absolutely crucial.
By all accounts, Rep. Cantor performed brilliantly as a whip. When the Republicans assumed majority status in 2011, his colleagues selected him to be Majority Leader. Only 47 years old, he looks like a good bet to one day be Speaker of the House, the third ranking constitutional office in American national government.
The current policy agenda in Washington is rife with controversy, as our elected representatives attempt to grapple with the competing demands from their constituents to reduce the federal budget deficit while still maintaining funding for highly popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, defense, and so on. The numbers simply do not add up and the challenges this creates for the Congress are truly daunting. Moreover, the country must deal with these enormously difficult policy and political tradeoffs during a time of economic recession and high unemployment.
As House Majority Leader, Cantor will be at the very center of these efforts for the next two years and probably much longer. We’re fortunate to be able to count him as one of our graduates and his appearance at Charter Day is yet another indicator of the historic ties that exist between the College and the very highest levels of American government.