By Jared Allen - 07/04/09 05:54 PM EDT
In what Democrats are readily admitting was their toughest vote since they took back power in 2007, the eight Republican votes proved critical to letting Pelosi hand out as many free passes as she could to members who thought that it would be too difficult to selling the bill in their districts.
Republicans have been relentless in attacking Democrats who supported the bill, which would set up a carbon cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that Republicans have tried to label as “cap and tax,” citing studies that many consumers could see their local utility rates increase.
Some of the Republicans also cast their votes early, as dozens of Democrats were holding off on making their decisions.
“The early yes votes from them surprised us,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “We had assumed that Republican leaders had asked their yeses to hold their votes until the end.”
Instead, at least two Republicans voted yes very early in the 15-minute voting window, including Rep. Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), Obama’s choice to serve as Secretary of the Army.
Democrats, who whipped the bill for weeks and right up until the last minute, had counted on winning over anywhere from two-to-four GOP members.
And the majority wouldn’t have been surprised if Republican support had been limited to a single yes vote from Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), the lone GOP supporter of the bill as it fought its way through the Energy and Commerce Committee.
In spite of that, Democrats contended that they had enough votes of their own to pass the bill, but used the GOP cushion to allow some members to go ahead and vote no and other members who had promised Pelosi they wouldn’t let their no votes sink the bill keep their no votes in place.
Aides would not say who those members were, but said there were as many as six Democrats who were prepared to switch their votes at the last minute in order to save the bill from failing if necessary.
No Democrats changed their recorded votes.
Democrats credited the stronger-than-expected GOP showing to the Speaker’s direct outreach to a hand-picked group of moderate Republicans in the week leading up to the vote.
Through two meetings in her office – one a listening session and the second an education effort – Pelosi, bill authors Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (Mass.) and conservative Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) were able to convince many of moderate Republicans to support the massive climate change bill.
The Republicans who cast yes votes – Bono Mack, McHugh, and Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Mike Castle (R-Del.), Dave Reichert (R-Wa.), Leonard Lance (R-N.J), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), and Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) – spent the week getting blasted on conservative talk radio.
Throughout the 111th Congress, House Republicans have put up a number of united fronts against the Democratic agenda, often denying Pelosi and Obama even a single vote in support of their legislative priorities.
But despite a intense whipping effort and a rousing floor speech against the bill by Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) that won widespread praise throughout the conference, Republicans couldn’t hold their line quite so intact.
“There was never a who’s with me, who’s against me count,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said of the Republican outreach. “It was just a genuine attempt at listening to their concerns and explaining to them how we were able to address those concerns. A lot of what they were concerned about had been taken care of by [Agriculture Chairman Collin] Peterson.”