Politics

Eric Cantor defends tea party against ‘wackobird’ label

Majority Leader Eric Cantor defended tea party activists against the derogatory “wackobird” label during an interview over the weekend.

Cantor and others in the Republican leadership often find themselves at odds with the self-styled tea party lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But he had nothing but praise for tea party activists during a lengthy Q-and-A at a Jewish organization in New York City on Sunday evening.

Cantor’s defense came after interviewer Thane Rosenbaum of the 92nd Street Y asserted that it has been a “difficult three years” for Cantor to deal with tea partiers, referencing most recently the disagreement between the House Leadership and many of those lawmakers on military intervention in Syria.

“Sen. McCain calls them wackobirds,” Rosenbaum said to laughter and applause. “And he’s right. And you know he’s right. But you can’t say that, and I’m not going to make you say that.”

Cantor immediately said he was “going to push back” on the premise of Rosenbaum’s criticism of the tea party movement as a whole.

“Remember who the tea party is: tea parties were moms, were grandmoms, were working men and women who really had not engaged in the political discourse before. And they gathered around this sort of moniker, taxed enough already. That’s what tea party, if we recall that, that’s what it stands for,” Cantor said. (RELATED: House will vote on continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare)

“I just think that, unfortunately, the characterization by the media has been mis-portraying, if you will, so many of those individuals — those moms and grandmoms and dads — who were part of that effort in 2009,” Cantor said.

Referencing the disagreement within the Republican conference, Cantor said: “Honestly, we’ve got more agreement than we’ve got disagreement within our party. Our party has always been one that likes to sort of rally around the principle of limited government, of pro-growth economics, of upward mobility.”

He added: “We need robust debate of ideas — exchange of ideas — in this country.”

Rosenbaum of the 92nd Street Y wasn’t convinced. “I still think they’re wackobirds,” he said, “but whatever.”

Follow Alex on Twitter