Lesley Stahl profiles House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In this wide-ranging interview, Cantor describes his childhood in Virginia, his identity as a Jewish Republican, and his current reputation as a legislative "Dr. No." Despite mounting public frustration with partisan bickering in Congress, Cantor says he is willing to "cooperate" with Democrats, but not "compromise" his principles.
The following script is from "The Majority Leader" which aired on Jan. 1, 2012. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Karen Sughrue, producer.
2011 will be remembered as a year of perpetual gridlock in Washington and open combat between the president and the Republicans in Congress. There was a litany of standoffs: from three near government shutdowns, to a stalemate over raising the debt ceiling, to the latest skirmish over extending the payroll tax cut. There seems to be more finger-pointing than governing and the public is fed up.
President Obama's nemesis throughout the year was 48-year-old Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader of the House, who played a major role in the Republican strategy.
The White House blames Eric Cantor, more than anyone else, for disrupting the president's first term. Especially for scuttling one set of deficit reduction talks after another.
We spoke to the majority leader recently and asked him why everything in Washington turns into a fight.
Rep. Eric Cantor: I understand people's frustration, I really do. I mean, there's a lot of people unemployed. A lot of people who've lost hope right now.
Lesley Stahl: But they're frustrated with the Congress. That you're playing games, it feels like.
Cantor: There's not.. there's no games. What we're trying to do is trying to do what's good for this country.
Stahl: Why go through this brinksmanship, gamesmanship, one-upsmanship? Explain it. Maybe there's a real good answer.
Cantor: But ultimately this is part of the legislative process that I know it's frustrating. I live it.
Stahl: Well, what do you say to the Democrats who charge that all you're really trying to do is deprive the president of a win?
Cantor: That to me is, that's just political rhetoric and I dismiss that. Because I really do believe that most if not all people who are elected to Congress really want to do what's right with this country.
Stahl: You've got a nine percent, Congress has a nine percent approval rating. What do you think this conveys about confidence in our government? Don't you think this is shredding that?
Cantor: Well, I think that ultimately the confidence comes from good results. And, you know, somehow that saying goes, "The harder you work, the sweeter the reward." And we're certainly being put to that test right now.
[President Obama: I'm going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Some day sooner or later he's going to say, 'Boy, Obama had a good idea.']
President Obama has made Eric Cantor the face of what he sees as Republican inflexibility. Cantor has fought the president's policies at every turn, including using his authority as majority leader to prevent a vote on the president's jobs bill.
[Obama: I'd like Mr Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what exactly in this jobs bill does he not believe in?]
Cantor would say what he doesn't believe in is spending government money to create jobs, but the president's keying on him has taken its toll. He's been picketed and heckled.
He has fallen in the polls and so has his party as, according to a CBS News poll, the public blames them more for the gridlock in Washington.