By Mike Soraghan - 06/10/09 07:16 PM EDT
Rep. Barbara Lee is perhaps the toughest vote for President Obama to get on a bill funding the war in Afghanistan. After all, Lee was the lone vote against the popular invasion in 2001.
So the White House called in extra firepower, tapping White House adviser and Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett to make a call to Lee (D-Calif.).
Obama himself pulled a pack of Blue Dog Democrats aside at the White House to make his pitch. Cabinet secretaries made the case, and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel dialed up some of his old House colleagues to put the touch on them.
The sales pitch: do it for your president.
“They say, “This is going to be an embarrassment to the president,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “But they use that on every last thing.”
Still, Obama has cachet to spare with congressional Democrats, and the approach appears to have worked. House and Senate leaders announced a deal Wednesday evening that is expected to clear the way for a conference report.
A controversial amendment blocking any release of torture photos is out. The $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund is in. And on Guantanamo, the legislation will say detainees can come to the United States for trial, but cannot stay.
House and Senate conferees are to meet Thursday. The target for a House vote is Tuesday, and then the conference report goes to the Senate.
With the agreement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic leaders may have wriggled out of a tight bind. The bill, which passed in May with overwhelming Democratic support, has become weighted down by solid Republican opposition to including money for the International Monetary Fund. Republican leaders call the money a “global bailout.”
That meant Pelosi must pass the conference report in the House with Democratic votes. Only 200 Democrats voted for the measure, so leaders needed to find 18 more votes among the 51 who voted no.
The IMF money was enough to attract some of the liberal, anti-war members who voted against the money the first time around. But the prospect that some of the money could go to Iran threatened to cost Democratic votes, particularly among ardent supporters of Israel.
Then the Senate proposal to use the bill to block release of controversial torture photos threatened whatever ground with liberals Pelosi had made with IMF.
“I am among the get-able group of ‘No’ votes,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). But, “That’s a deal breaker for me.”
And Blue Dogs were irritated at the overall price tag — now exceeding $100 billion — and an earmark for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).
Among the “no” votes were seven committee chairmen, all of whom could feel extra pressure to support leadership when the vote is close.
In some Democratic offices, aides even speculated that leaders might bring the measure to a vote without the magic number of 218 votes, hoping some vulnerable Republicans would fear voting against a measure to fund the troops.
“Is this their, ‘I voted for it before I voted against it’ moment?” speculated a Democratic aide.
Republicans said their wall of opposition to the IMF money is solid, and that even the most vulnerable Republicans, like Rep. Ahn “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) are on board.
“If they’re depending on us, they’re going to lose,” said a senior Republican aide, who rejected the comparison to Sen. John Kerry’s infamous line from the 2004 presidential campaign. Republican members, he said, “voted for a clean troop funding bill and then against a global bailout.”