Dispute on whipping climate bill is latest sign Rep. Castle is leaving

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) is at odds with Republican leaders on how aggressively they pressed him to vote against the climate change bill.

The dispute is the latest indication that Castle, who is mulling a Senate bid, is unlikely to run for a 10th term in the lower chamber.

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In an interview with The Hill, the 70-year-old congressman said that he was “very much up in the air on that bill,” but doesn’t remember his leadership attempting any “great persuasion” to oppose what they deemed the “national energy tax” measure.

Following meetings with Democratic leaders — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — Castle was one of eight Republicans who supported the bill, which narrowly passed House late last month, 219-212.

“Even voting for it, I was 51-49 percent because I never was convinced that was a particularly good piece of legislation,” Castle said.

GOP leaders tell a different story.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) says that he did talk to Castle about voting no on the Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill.

And a GOP leadership aide familiar with the Republican whipping effort said, “Mr. Castle and his office were contacted a number of times and were whipped throughout the week. Leadership received the same answer with every conversation and contact: Mr. Castle was a ‘yes’ vote on the cap-and-trade legislation.”

The Republican staffer said leadership asked Castle to “hold his vote until the very end of the 15-minute vote to make passage of this legislation harder for the Democrats. Curiously for an undecided member, he was one of the first Republicans” to register his support on the floor.

In the interview with The Hill, Castle praised Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), saying they “are pretty understanding people” who respect when he and other Republicans don’t vote with them.

Castle has been assessing whether to run for the Senate. He believes Attorney General Beau Biden (D) is “pretty likely” to run for the former seat of his father, Vice President Joe Biden. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is pressing Castle to launch a bid, while the National Republican Congressional Committee wants him to stay put.

Boehner and Castle recently talked about an opening for the top GOP post on the Education and Labor Committee, but Castle bowed out of seeking that perch. Many viewed that decision as a clear indication he will not seek another term in the House.

House Republican leaders “pretty much understand that I may not be running for the House” in 2010, Castle said.

But Boehner says “there’s always hope” that Castle will remain in the lower chamber. Democrats are targeting Castle’s House seat, but know that defeating the incumbent would be an uphill climb.

The Senate, Castle said, has a lot of appeal.

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“You’re one of 100, and if you want to get something done, the likelihood goes up tremendously,” he said. “I think that one individual can actually make a difference.”

Castle has not set a firm timetable, but said he must make a final decision “pretty soon.”

He also said he took heat at home for casting a yes vote on the climate bill.

“Our calls were more against it than for it, so I knew this wasn’t going to be easy at all. It proved not to be — I’ve had a couple town hall meetings that were not pleasant … a couple of letters to the editor that I could have done without.”

Unlike many members of Congress, Castle sometimes decides at the last moment how he will vote.

“At least once a month,” he says, he heads to the House chamber “either undecided about a difficult vote — and will talk to people on the floor — or I’m decided, knowing that it’s not going to be politically helpful to be doing so.”

For that reason, GOP Rep. Brett Guthrie (Ky.) enjoys picking Castle’s brain.

Guthrie views Castle “as a mentor,” he said. Both lawmakers sit on the Education and Labor Committee.

Castle, a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin, has clashed with Republican leaders throughout his career. He opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supports gun control and championed stem cell research throughout President George W. Bush’s administration.

He has long known that his liberal stances on social issues would prevent his ascending his party’s leadership ladder.

Within months of his arrival on Capitol Hill in 1993, he said he knew he “would never be in the leadership of the Republicans.”

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He stresses that he is a fiscal conservative.

“I still believe very strongly in a lot of the Republican principles of limited government and controlled expenditures,” Castle said.

Like every House Republican, Castle opposed President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill.

Despite GOP leaders’ concern, Castle said he was never going to vote for that measure.

“I think the Obama administration made a mistake on that bill that they let the House write it and didn’t go in and make it more purely stimulus,” Castle said.

He’s worried that they will make the same mistake with healthcare reform.

“[Obama] has tried to bite off more than he really can,” Castle said of the president’s ambitious agenda to stimulate the economy and pass healthcare reform and climate change bills.

He is highly skeptical that the House can complete that bill before the August break, let alone have something ready for the president’s signature in the fall.

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