For the second time this cycle, a controversial yet major piece of Democratic legislation passed by a 219-212 margin. And like the last time, it’s left plenty of the “yes” voters looking over their shoulders.
The healthcare bill survived by the exact same margin by which the House passed its climate change bill in June, and the two votes stand as the most divisive major bills the House has passed. Along with the stimulus package, they loom as a trifecta of votes the GOP plans to use leading up to November.
“I voted for it before I voted against it” will reign for years as an example of how hard it is to explain changing your vote.
Eight Democrats went from “no” on the House healthcare bill in November to “yes” on the Senate bill on Sunday, and they included five potentially vulnerable members: Reps. John Boccieri (Ohio), Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Scott Murphy (N.Y.) and Betsy Markey (Colo.).
“My gut [feeling] is that members who switched are the ones that put themselves most at risk,” former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) said. “That doesn’t mean they’ll lose. It just means it’s a tougher explanation.”
Boccieri was the most full-throated supporter of the bill, but Republicans say that only makes him that much more vulnerable. Kosmas and Markey were already top targets, and the GOP hopes Boyd and Murphy have earned themselves difficult Novembers as well.
Several members had two distinct groups to assuage — their swing or conservative-leaning constituents, and their party.
Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) faces a moneyed primary challenger in the form of Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O’Brien, and if he survives that, he’s one of the most endangered incumbents in the general election. In the end, his yes vote risks irritating his district at large while helping him in the primary.
In announcing his vote, the 13-termer said it was among the most difficult he has cast.
Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) faced perhaps the biggest balancing act. He is now the pick of party leaders to run for Senate. And after pioneering the anti-abortion language in the first bill, he announced his support for this bill even before Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) negotiated concessions on the issue.
Republicans have made a fun play out of tagging Markey with an additional surname — Mezvinsky. The reference is to former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.), who was kicked out of office in 1994 after one term for being the deciding vote on President Bill ClintonBill ClintonChelsea Clinton dismisses rumors she'll run for public office: report Trump seeks to stop lawsuit from ‘Apprentice’ contestant Trump asks why Clintons' ties to Russia aren't under investigation MORE’s budget bill.
Markey may well pay the price for her yes vote, but several others could have an even better claim on that surname. In fact, more than a dozen districts held by “yes” voters were bigger McCain districts in 2008 than Markey’s Fort Collins-based spread.
Two West Virginians — Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick RahallNick RahallWest Virginia is no longer Clinton country Solution needed: Rail congestion is stifling economic growth Lobbying World MORE — both saw their districts go at least 56 percent for Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain having 'conversations' with Dems on Gorsuch nomination Live coverage: Senate intel holds first public Russia hearing McCain responds to North Korean criticism to calling Kim Jong-un 'crazy fat kid' MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2008, while Reps. EarlPomeroy (N.D.), Chris Carney (Pa.) and Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickWomen make little gains in new Congress McCain wins sixth Senate term In Arizona, history and voter registration data gives GOP edge MORE (Ariz.) all come from districts where McCain won by at least eight points.
Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), a one-time chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said many members will need to spend time explaining their votes.
“I don’t know that you can single out too many members, because there are quite a few who come from marginal districts who voted yes,” Frost said.
The longer a member labors over his or her decision, the more he or she tends to fear the consequences. Just two vulnerable members went into the vote Sunday without giving an indication about their votes — Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.).
Boucher, who voted no, is an emerging GOP target. But, if anything, Sanchez’s outlook appears to have improved slightly in recent months. Her dithering before voting yes, though, suggests she’s at least a little bit concerned about state Assemblyman Van Tran (R).
Sanchez said it was “probably” the most difficult vote she has ever cast, but that phone calls from the uninsured prevailed on her.
Many of those declaring late were holding out for abortion changes, including Reps. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyManchin first Dem to announce support for Gorsuch Dem leaders give centrists space on Gorsuch NRA launches M Supreme Court ad MORE (D-Ind.), Rahall and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.). But other yes votes who waited until the weekend came away looking a little timid, including Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and David Wu (D-Ore.).
We generally look at the “no”s as having gotten a pass. But that isn’t always the case.
New York Reps. Michael Arcuri and Mike McMahon, perhaps more than any other Democrats, stirred up problems on their left with their “no” votes. Labor groups and the Working Families Party are setting up third-party challenges, and as we’ve seen recently in New York, such threats should be taken seriously.
Look for the left to focus on making an example of one or the other.
Reps. Zack Space (D-Ohio) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) also look as though they could be facing some problems with labor, and Reps. Glenn Nye (D-Va.) and John BarrowJohn BarrowOur democracy can’t afford to cut legal aid services from the budget Dem files Ethics complaint on Benghazi panel Barrow thanks staff in farewell speech MORE (D-Ga.) could turn off significant black populations in their districts by voting against President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaAP poll: Nearly 60 percent disapprove of Trump Trump to decide by late May whether to stay in Paris climate pact Axelrod: Russia could become ‘major crisis’ for Trump MORE.
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