House Speaker John Boehner evoked Winston Churchill as he praised Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Wednesday while accepting his resignation as the chamber's No. 2 Republican.
"Winston Churchill once famously said: 'Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts,'" Boehner told a meeting of the House Republican Conference. "As one who suffered a tough defeat myself in 1998, I can tell you there's plenty of wisdom in that statement."
Cantor, 51, resigned his leadership post
after Tuesday's stunning loss in the Virginia Republican primary to Dave Brat, 49, a college economics professor who was backed by the tea party.
The Cantor campaign outspent his challenger by more than 10-to-1, only to win 44.5 percent of the vote to Brat's 55.5 percent.
Cantor, who was first elected to the House in 2000 — a decade after Boehner — will step down on July 31. He'll remain in Congress until his term ends in January. The House will vote on his successor on June 19.
"This is a speech I never expected to give," Boehner said in remarks that were released after Cantor's announcement. "I want to start by offering a heartfelt thanks to Eric and his staff for their service to our conference, our institution and our country.
"We've been through a lot together," the Ohio Republican added. "When I was elected majority leader eight and a half years ago, Eric was there, as the chief deputy whip. He's always been there.
"There's no one who works harder, or puts more thought, into advancing our principles and the solutions we want to enact for the American people.
"Eric, we salute you, and we thank you, and your amazing staff as well," Boehner said. "We're losing a leader, but you'll never stop being our colleague and our friend."
Perhaps in a nod to a possible war between the GOP's establishment and conservative factions, Boehner called for consensus.
"This is the time for unity," he said. "The time for focus — focus on the thing we all know to be true: the failure of Barack Obama's policies and our obligation to show the American people we offer them not just a viable alternative, but a better future."
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