(Corrects Cantor's age to 49 in paragraph 11)
* Chief Obama critic says he hopes to work with president
* Cantor calls for initiatives in education, healthcare,
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Feb 5 Eric Cantor, the combative
second-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives,
launched a major rebranding of his party on Tuesday, saying he
hoped Republicans and President Barack Obama could "set
differences aside" in the interest of helping ordinary
While giving no ground on any of the outstanding differences
between House Republicans and Obama in a speech prepared for
delivery to the American Enterprise Institute, the change in
tone from one of the most partisan leaders of the House was
It followed months of rethinking among Republicans about
their image among Americans following Obama's victory in the
November election and their recent retreat from a confrontation
they had looked forward to over the nation's borrowing limit.
Cantor, who has been one of Obama's toughest adversaries
over the past two years, made only passing reference to the
bitter fights with Obama over "cliffs, debt ceilings and
budgets" in which he has played such a visible role.
While giving no ground on those or any other issues, he said
it was time to focus on "what lies beyond" them, including
education, jobs, healthcare and innovation.
Similarly, he made no particular concessions on
comprehensive immigration reform which is being advanced by
Obama and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators.
But he spoke sympathetically of the aspirations of
immigrants, both documented and undocumented.
"It is my hope that I can stand before you in two years and
report back that our side, as well as the president's, found
within us the ability to set differences aside, to provide
relief to so many millions of Americans who simply want their
lives to work again," Cantor said.
A Washington Post-ABC News/Washington poll last month found
that 67 percent of Americans say that Republicans are doing "too
little" to work with Obama.
The survey gave Republicans in Congress an approval rating
of 24 percent, compared to a 37 percent rating for Democrats.
Obama's approval recently hit a four-year high of 60 percent.
Cantor, 49, is widely seen as a possible successor to John
Boehner, 63, as House Speaker, the chamber's top job.
While the two insist that they have a close working
relationship, at times they have offered competing visions. On
Tuesday, however, Boehner said they were on the same page.
Speaking with reporters after a meeting with House
Republicans, Boehner said, "As I told the members, Eric's giving
a very important speech."
"While there's a lot of focus on the deficit and debt, there
are a lot of other things that Republicans plan to do over the
course of this year," Boehner said.
"And if we're going to connect with the American people,
it's important that they see, not only that we're serious about
solving our debt problem, but we're serious about addressing
issues like energy, like education, to show really the breath of
the effort that we're involved in," Boehner added.
During the past two years, the White House has tried to make
Cantor the face of congressional Republicans, and has made it
clear that Obama prefers working with Boehner.
In an apparent effort to present a softer personal image,
Cantor punctuated his prepared speech with references to a long
lineup of people, including his wife and three children, his
dad, a Baltimore nurse and a police officer from his hometown of
He spoke of visiting an inner-city school this week, and
introduced a student from the school and his father.
"Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles
of self reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family
and accountability in government," Cantor said.
(Editing by Fred Barbash and Eric Walsh)