Eric Cantor bids farewell to House majority leader post

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., bid farewell to his post in House leadership on Thursday, marking the occasion with a floor speech in which he thanked his colleagues for giving him the "privilege of a lifetime" by allowing him to serve as House majority leader.

"Walking into this building, walking onto this floor, is something that excited me every day since I was first elected to Congress," Cantor said. "Not one of us should ever take for granted the awesome honor and responsibility we have to serve our fellow Americans."

Cantor spoke fondly about his work in the House, particularly his work on education reform and school choice, which he dubbed the "civil rights issue of our time."

"Too many children are condemned to a bad school" because of their zip code, he said. "Being poor in America should not mean being deprived of a good education."

He also warned about the consequences of America's "diminished engagement" abroad, citing chaos in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere. "Our nation and our economy cannot meet its full potential if we in America are not leading abroad," he said.

Cantor briefly nodded at the fractious partisanship that has become a hallmark of Capitol Hill in recent years. He said he and his Democratic colleagues in Congress and at the White House "don't always see eye-to-eye," but he added that the founders did not design Congress to be a "rubber stamp."

He also praised House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, with whom he had an occasionally tense relationship over the last several years.

"Thank you for the example of firm leadership, and at the same time for not being afraid to show us all your kind heart and your soft spot from time to time," Cantor said, turning around to grin at Boehner atop the dais as the speaker wiped tears from his eyes.

Cantor gave a shout-out to his successor as majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wishing him luck in his new role. And he thanked McCarthy and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for joining his "young guns" initiative several years ago and working to revitalize the GOP in the wake of stinging defeats in 2006 and 2008.

During a meeting of the House conference on Tuesday, Cantor was feted by his colleagues with a tribute video that compiled some of the highlights of his time on Capitol Hill.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., spoke after Cantor ceded the floor, praising the departing majority leader for always keeping "the best interests of his country" in mind when he acted.

"I want to congratulate him," said Hoyer, himself a former House majority leader. "I want to thank him for his service."

Cantor was ousted from his seat in a stunning primary election upset last month by college economics professor Dave Brat. Although he is stepping down from his leadership post on Thursday, he will serve out the remainder of his term as a rank-and-file Republican.