Rep. Cao could be GOP vote for healthcare

GOP Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) may well support healthcare reform if the bill prohibits federal funds for abortion.

The freshman Congressman is a devote Jesuit and former seminarian who adamantly opposes abortion rights.

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Democratic political operatives consider the Vietnam-born lawmaker to be the most vulnerable House GOP targets in 2010. He also might be the best hope Democrats have of winning a GOP vote in the House for healthcare reform.

The House is expected to move toward a vote after returning to Washington in September.

Princella Smith, a spokeswoman for Cao, said a report on Friday overstated Cao’s remarks earlier this week at a town hall in his district. The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Friday published a story that Cao is “leaning” toward the House Democrats' health plan. It was based on comments Cao made at a town hall on Thursday.

When asked if he would support the Democratic bill should it prohibit federal funding for abortions, Cao responded that he would lean in favor of it.

“(Cao) said that he would lean toward supporting it if an amendment was put in but that is a strong “lean,” Smith told the Hill.

Cao’s majority-African-American district voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in the 2008 election. Cao defeated former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who was then under an indictment, in the general election that was delayed to December because of weather issues.

The White House has courted Cao on prior big-ticket items such as the economic stimulus package and climate change. He voted against both measures.

But the stakes are higher on the healthcare reform bill and earlier this week Cao requested a meeting with President Obama to discuss the plan.

According to Smith, Cao's office is in contact with the White House on scheduling the meeting with Obama.  Smith said the lawmaker first may have a “preliminary meeting with Kathleen Sebelius,” Obama’s Health and Human Services Department secretary.