RICHMOND, Va. -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) faced two competing attacks on Wednesday near his home district in Richmond. The first: That he's a liberal on immigration posing as a hardliner just to get primary election votes. The second: That he's one of the biggest impediments to immigration reform in the House.
Facing a June 10 primary challenge from longshot Republican Dave Brat, Cantor's campaign boasts that he blocked a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate, bolstering his tough-on-immigration credentials. As majority leader, Cantor has given no immigration reform measures a chance for a vote in the House, either as a comprehensive bill or in smaller measures, like the recently-blocked Enlist Act.
But Cantor also takes fire from the right. He has spoken in support of giving legal status to undocumented young people who came to the United States as children, and was part of the House GOP leadership that released principles earlier this year that would allow undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.
The question in Richmond on Wednesday was who Cantor really is on immigration: The behind-the-scenes schemer for reform, or the man intent on killing it?
Outside the state house, primary challenger Brat railed against Cantor's supposed push for comprehensive immigration reform, telling reporters that "Cantor has been the number one cheerleader in Congress for amnesty." As proof, Brat cited a visit to the state house on Wednesday by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a consistent critic of Cantor and other Republican leaders blocking a vote on immigration reform.
Cantor's campaign put out fliers earlier this week touting his anti-"amnesty" stance, saying he stopped the "liberal plan" of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "to give illegal aliens a free ride."
Brat said those fliers masked Cantor's true views on immigration, and argued that Gutierrez's visit helped reinforce the message that Cantor wants -- that he's fighting reform. Brat said Cantor and Gutierrez were "in cahoots," although he later admitted he had no evidence that the two coordinated Gutierrez's appearance in Richmond.
"Congressman Gutierrez is here to set up a great deception that will allow Eric Cantor to claim he is opposed to amnesty, at the eleventh hour, just two weeks prior to the primary on June 10th," Brat said.
Gutierrez dismissed the idea that he was coordinating with Cantor. He told reporters he was invited to Richmond by pro-immigration reform group CASA de Virginia, and didn't speak to Cantor about it.
"No," Gutierrez told reporters with a laugh when asked if he and Cantor were in cahoots. "But I'd like to work with him on comprehensive immigration reform so I could be accused of that."
At Gutierrez's event, Cantor was certainly not painted as a proponent of immigration reform. Gutierrez was flanked by activists -- many undocumented, some in deportation proceedings -- holding signs reading, "Cantor: the one man blocking immigration reform," and "Eric Cantor: Give us a vote." A few were in tears discussing their immigration status. At one point, people took out their phones to call Cantor's office en masse and ask him to bring immigration reform for a vote.
"People might think we're here because there's a primary next week," Gutierrez told the group. "Nothing could be be further from the truth. The primary is really irrelevant to us. We're here because the majority leader, Eric Cantor, controls the agenda of the Congress of the United States. And we have come here to say ... stop being an obstacle, stop being in the way."
House Republicans are likely to face increasing pressure after the White House announced Tuesday that it would not release a report on how to change deportation policy until the end of the summer, to give House Republicans time to move on immigration reform.
Gutierrez said that the delay was "a mistake," but added that he thinks Obama is willing to make a major change if no legislation comes. He said it indicates the president still thinks there's a chance to get legislation.
Whether there is a chance depends in part on Cantor and other House leaders. That means majority leader's immigration views are likely to stay in the spotlight, even after the primary.
Ray Allen, a spokesman for Cantor's campaign, said Cantor "has been very consistent" with his views on immigration reform, opposing a large bill, but saying there are instances where the parties can find common ground. Allen said Gutierrez had a "legitimate beef" with Cantor because he opposed the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill.
"Dave Brat, on the other hand, is just lying," Allen said.