Nearly three years after the duo made political headlines for their testy encounter during debt negotiations, President Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appeared together at the White House on Thursday for the signing of a law officially ending public financing of party conventions while directing millions of dollars to pediatric cancer research.
But the truce, analysts say, is more a temporary “marriage of convenience” for both men rather than a real change in what’s long appeared to be a frosty relationship.
House leadership aides acknowledge the two camps will quickly return to regular political fights come Friday morning, though they remain optimistic the new law may have helped to build at least a small measure of trust between the administration and congressional Republicans.
While the president and Mr. Cantor have engaged in bitter battles over the nation’s debt ceiling, health care reform and other issues, Thursday brought a badly needed opportunity for both men to tout bipartisan cooperation.
“I think this is much more a marriage of convenience than an actual thawing in the relationship. … I think it’s very beneficial to both sides. It’s one of those moments where both sides can proclaim that Washington is not broken, that we can work together,” said Lara Brown, associate professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
In brief remarks just before signing the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act into law, Mr. Obama didn’t mention Mr. Cantor, Virginia Republican, by name. Instead, the president focused on Gabriella Miller, a 10-year-old Virginia girl for whom the legislation is named. She died last year after battling brain cancer.
Mr. Cantor shepherded the bill through the House and promoted it heavily. It eliminates taxpayer funding of party conventions and uses the savings to fund pediatric cancer research at the National Institutes of Health.
In 2012, the Democratic and Republican party conventions spent a combined $36.5 million in taxpayer money. Over the next decade, about $126 million would have been spent on the quadrennial events.
‘We needed to make sure that we got more money into research for the National Institutes of Health so that we can know more about brain tumors … and so what this legislation is going to do is, it’s going to put millions of additional dollars into that research,” Mr. Obama said at the bill signing. “Nothing is more challenging for a family than to go through something like this, and there’s more we can do for them.”
Both the president and Mr. Cantor kept the focus on Gabriella and the importance of the legislation during Thursday’s ceremony, and there were no signs of tension between the two.
Previous encounters at the White House, however, have been quite different.
In July 2011, with the U.S. on the verge of breaching its debt ceiling, Mr. Cantor and the president engaged in tense negotiations behind closed doors to try and hammer out a deal.
Near the end of the meeting, Republican sources claimed the president stormed out of the room in anger. Democrats alleged that Mr. Cantor interrupted Mr. Obama on multiple occasions and acted, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it, in a “childish” manner.
Neither side wanted to dredge up those old fights on Thursday.
“It was gratifying to find Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate who wanted to get something done, but it was Gabriella’s strength and will that really got this done. She inspired this action and this very important first step,” said Rory Cooper, spokesman for Mr. Cantor.
For Mr. Cantor, the law brings the added political benefit of not only showing he can work with Democrats on important initiatives, but can do so without increasing federal spending, Ms. Brown said.
“Cantor now gets to go back to his district and literally claim credit for a really important piece of legislation. It makes conservatives happy because he is able to essentially say, ‘Look, we paid for this,’” she said.