Climate bill Pelosi's biggest triumph yet

The House on Friday passed a historic climate change bill, giving Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) one of the biggest victories of her tenure and answering a call from President Obama for the United States play a leading role in reducing greenhouse gasses.

The bill passed with 219 votes, two more than the 217 that ended up being necessary for passage. Eight Republicans voted for it, while 44 Democrats voted "no."

ADVERTISEMENT
Democrats pulled out all the stops to secure those votes, even arranging for Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) – who had both been absent for weeks – to fly in for the vote on final passage.

After the 219-212 vote, Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Kennedy and Lewis ended up as the 218th and 219th votes, declaring that Democrats had secured the 217 votes they needed from the rest of the caucus.

“The calculation was 217. The two of them made 219,” Clyburn said.

But a number of reluctant Democrats held out as long as they could during the 15-minute vote.

Pelosi had last-minute conversations in the rear of the chamber with Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), two undecideds who cast the "yes" votes that helped push the bill over the finish line. Cuellar had even turned down President Obama in a one-one-one phone call Thursday.

“This bill was totally different,” Clyburn said. “This bill was all about regions.”

“This was a tough vote,” he said.

Pelosi found humor in the extraordinary efforts. She walked into a post-vote press holding an "easy button" from the Staples store advertisements.

“That was easy,” she quipped.

"No matter how long our colleagues want to delay, they couldn't hold off the future," Pelosi said after receiving congratulatory calls from Obama, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Other elated Democrats joined in the festivities, playing coy about a vote that they were simply not sure they had until very close to the finish line.

“As I told you all throughout the week,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) joked to a group of reporters in the Speaker’s Lobby, “we had the votes.”

Hoyer was even able to laugh off a Republican filibuster-of-sorts that came by way of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who used his two minutes – and his right as Leader – to spend an hour reading the 309-page manager’s amendment that was filed at 3:09 a.m.

“The bad news is Boehner spoke for an hour,” Hoyer said. “The good news is my flexibility in the future is greater.”

Pelosi, herself known for long closing speeches, responded to Boehner's lengthy speech with one that was little more than a minute, calling the bill one about "jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs."

The legislation, authored primarily by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), went through a series of substantial changes – up until 4 a.m. Friday – in order to win the support of enough Democrats.

"I had about six asks, and we got all six into the bill, aimed at low-income citizens," said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). "This bill was a work in progress until 4 o'clock this morning. We were very strategic in our activities."

Republicans were furious with those late changes being rushed to the floor, prompting Boehner’s reading of much of Waxman’s manager’s amendment.

“I really hate to do this, but when you file a 309-page amendment at 3:09 a.m., the people have a right to know what’s in it,” Boehner said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Republicans weren't the only ones mad about the midnight changes. 

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said the late amendment "gutted" a provision she'd inserted about outdoor lighting. So she became one of the 30 Democrats who voted against the procedural rule needed to bring up the bill.

"I was a protest vote," Harman said. "They replaced it with something that weakens current standards."

She voted for the final bill, though, issuing a statement saying the bill "falls far short."

For Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), it went too far.

"I usually try to vote the feeling in my district," said Davis, who's sprawling Middle-to-East Tennessee district is very rural. “There wasn't a lot of support for that in my district."

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (Mich.) was a possible Republican "yes," but he said of his "no" vote, "They worked hard on creating a bill that worked for them, rather than a bill that worked for the whole House." Ehlers added that his beleaguered state wasn't treated well. "They didn't take into account our dire economic circumstances."

At least one Democrat who voted "no" said that his leadership needlessly forced vulnerable Dems to take a vote that will come back to haunt them.

"A lot of people walked the plank on a bill that will never become law," Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) told The Hill after the gavel came down.

At the same time, Republicans managed to have some fun of their own.

When the presiding officer, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), asked if there were any  members wishing to change their vote just prior to gaveling the vote to a close, a member of the Republican Conference shouted “All of them!” -- clearly referring to the Democrats who had gotten whipped hard by their leaders, cabinet members, Emanuel and Obama.

Molly K. Hooper contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 9:12 p.m.