When GOP Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, of Wheaton, calls Eric Cantor “leader” at news conferences and delegation meetings, the reverence is clear in his voice.
Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, of Evanston, displays more disdain, describing the Virginia Republican during a recent Daily Herald interview as “nipping at the heels” of House Speaker John Boehner.
Yet, it is indisputable to those on both sides of the aisle that Cantor, as Republican majority leader, is a powerful figure.
Widely considered to be next in line for the House's top post, Cantor's success depends largely on his relationship with the 435 members of Congress, 19 of them from Illinois.
During a brief stop in Chicago last week, he sat down with the Daily Herald and talked about how the Illinois delegation — from Roskam to Tea Partyer Joe Walsh — fits into the party's overall picture and agenda.
Q. We have a new congressional map in Illinois that pits sitting Republican members against others. Will “red on red” warfare, as Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park puts it, affect your agenda these next few months?
A. I think Illinois was struck by a redistricting plan that wasn't, in the eyes of some of us, very fair. I think elsewhere in the country we don't have many states that are this extreme.
Q. But you don't see a GOP primary in the 16th District, for instance, between Republican congressmen Don Manzullo and Adam Kinzinger, as something that will complicate things for House leadership?
Q. You served as chief deputy and whip, a position Roskam now holds. Watching him from your position at the leadership table, what growth have you seen over the past year?
A. Peter Roskam is a rock star. People like him, he's smart, he's savvy, he understands the policy end and how it relates to the political end. And he's a guy who's very trustworthy. People in Illinois represented by Peter have a good thing going.
Q. How is Roskam doing the job differently than you did?
A. It's hard to be objective, but I know he is very focused on getting to know members, understanding their issues and trying to be a problem solver. That position (as chief deputy whip) is tailor-made for an individual who has really put themselves out there trying to understand people.
Q. What's the biggest challenge you see for him right now?
A. Dealing with a freshman class that's 89 members strong. That's a significant number of new people to Washington. Taking stock of where those individuals are in relation to our constituents. That's a big task and doing that while never forgetting what you come from, never forgetting the people in Illinois.
Q. What about freshmen like Joe Walsh who have not necessarily reached across the aisle?
A. Joe is someone many would say was elected with help of the Tea Party. Most of us look at the Tea Party as something that is extremely positive when you remember what the acronym means — taxed enough already.
And those representatives are really very focused on getting our fiscal house in order. ... Joe is one who's been very consistent with that theme.
Q. What do you think will be the lasting legacy of the 112th Congress? A House that is known for trying to get something done or holding on to rigid ideology?
A. We are trying to get the right thing done. (The House Republicans' mission is) about results that reflect what I think most Americans want to see — a Washington that actually works for the people again.
Q. How do you work for bipartisanship, especially in an election year like this one?
A. I really do think there's a window of opportunity right now to say let's set aside the differences. We know there's a divide. But we can agree that we want to grow the economy. And we can agree, though there's not been demonstration right thus far, that if we want to grow jobs, (we) grow them where they come from.