Pelosi has go-to gang on big votes

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has only lost one major vote since becoming Speaker.

And with a roll call expected on a landmark healthcare bill as early as next week, she is facing one of her toughest tests yet: bringing together a caucus split between factions engaged in open warfare.

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Pelosi’s ability to unite Democrats and get the tough bills passed derives from her powers of persuasion and careful vote counting. And part of counting votes is knowing whom you can count on in a pinch.

Here are some of the key Democrats Pelosi is likely to turn to as the voting on healthcare reform comes down to the wire, along with two hard-to-get votes.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.): Cardoza is Pelosi’s ambassador to the Blue Dog Democrats. The controversial climate vote (which passed with the minimum number of votes needed) and the healthcare debate have severely strained her relationship with the centrist group’s leadership, making Cardoza’s job that much more difficult, but also that much more important. Cardoza strays from Democratic orthodoxy on environmental issues like the Endangered Species Act, but he voted with Pelosi on climate change.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.): Becerra, who won an elective slot for leadership last year, is an important link for Pelosi to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where he used to be chairman. That will be crucial as Pelosi works to find immigration language that can keep Blue Dogs and other centrist Democrats on board.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.): The ideologically diverse New Democrat Coalition has been split on the question of a public option. But since ascending to its chairmanship, Crowley has managed to keep any infighting largely below the surface and quietly negotiate deals with Pelosi, such as allowing physicians to opt out of the government-run plan. He is a top fundraiser and his interest in leadership is well-known. Once considered a loyalist of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Crowley has broadened his reach and has become Pelosi’s go-to for the New Democrat Coalition.

Rep. George Miller (Calif.): If Pelosi needs to trade away liberal priorities to get a bill, the task will likely fall to Miller, who is alternately called Pelosi’s “right-hand man” and her “consigliere,” to coax them back on board. Miller has street cred with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and perhaps no other member is closer to the Speaker.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas): Days before the climate change vote in June, Cuellar was telling a fellow lawmaker that he planned to vote no. Just then he got a tap on the shoulder. “Henry,” Pelosi said, “can I talk to you about your vote?” Cuellar, a Blue Dog and the most conservative of Texas’s Hispanic delegation, prides himself on being a business-minded Democrat. He’s bucked leadership on tax cuts and closing tax loopholes for energy companies. But when the final votes were tallied, he was a “yes” on Pelosi’s climate bill.

Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.): When Thompson first ran for Congress in 1998, Pelosi backed him over a more liberal candidate, saying he was a better fit for the district. Thompson is the most conservative of the coastal California Democrats, but he has stuck by Pelosi, changing his vote from no to yes on the bailout vote (the first bailout vote was the only major vote Pelosi has lost), supporting the climate change bill and voting for the health bill in committee.

Rep. Bruce Braley (Iowa): Braley replaced Republican Jim Nussle. His ambition has impressed Democratic leaders and earned him a slot on the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he voted for the bill in committee. After the bailout bill failed in 2008, Braley was one of the Democrats who switched to pass it the next month.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.): Giffords, a Blue Dog and a Frontline member, supported Pelosi on Iraq, voting for a timetable for withdrawal. After President George W. Bush vetoed that bill, Giffords supported a bill that included Bush’s Iraq request, ending a difficult early chapter for Pelosi’s new majority.

Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.): The Southern Democrat voted to end the war in Iraq in 2007, even though he was considered one of the party’s endangered members. This year, Yarmuth, who defeated a Republican incumbent in 2006, voted for the climate change bill. That’s a tough sell in a Southern state, but Yarmuth can take comfort that President Barack Obama won his district with 56 percent.

The hard-to-get votes:

Rep. Frank Kratovil (Md.): Kratovil is considered one of the most endangered Democrats in this year’s freshman class. He became the poster child for incivility when protesters hanged him in effigy. So it was a surprise when Pelosi snagged his vote on climate change by making Maryland farmers eligible for as much as $1 billion in incentives for reducing emissions. But she might not get him this time; Kratovil has said he’s a no on the healthcare bill.

Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.): Pelosi has courted her assiduously, holding a high-profile event to announce that she would include in the bill Dahlkemper’s proposal allowing adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance longer. But Dahlkemper hasn’t committed publicly, and has told leaders she is a no on the “robust” public option.

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