Pelosi warns caucus on lobbying vote

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a stern warning to her colleagues yesterday during a closed-door meeting, telling them not to buck their leadership on a pivotal lobbying reform bill.

“They want to use you to defeat us,” she warned. “Trust us on this. It has absolutely no downside to your district,” she said, as she urged Democrats to vote against the House GOP leadership’s lobbying and ethics reform bill.

Democrats have pinned their election-year hopes on painting an image of the GOP as a corrupt, entrenched majority that voters should reject in November. Pelosi and other leaders argued that Democrats would hand Republicans a victory if they voted for a measure that Democrats and others have denounced as a sham.

Pelosi recalled that some members who had defied leadership on other important votes had come to her later and said they regretted the move. She took issue with those Democrats in particular: “You need to reach your wisdom on this before the vote rather than after.”

Pelosi made the comments before a record crowd at the weekly House Democratic Caucus meeting. The gathering attracted 102 House Democrats, nine more than the previous attendance record.

A Democratic aide hinted that there could be consequences for members who backed the lobbying bill. Pelosi has previously threatened to pull coveted committee assignments of members who are disloyal to leaders. During a vote on the Central America Free Trade Agreement last summer, Pelosi told the members that siding with Republicans could jeopardize their committee assignments.

“There should be no reason for anyone to register a yes vote on the lobbying reform bill,” the aide said. “If the Republicans win with Democratic votes, that is a slap in the face to the caucus.”

Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, were whipping the bill feverishly yesterday as The Hill went to press, and it appeared that a few Democratic rebels could help secure a GOP win.

Eight Democrats voted for the lobbying reform bill: Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Jim Marshall (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Charlie Melancon (La.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.). All but two are among the Democrats' 10 most vulnerable members.

Pelosi’s comments to the caucus struck a stern note just hours after she and Emanuel had led an upbeat political pep rally Tuesday night for House Democrats.

During that gathering, Pelosi and Emanuel energized members with poll numbers, anecdotal evidence of changing public opinion and comments from the punditry that painted a picture of a nation poised to turn House seats over to Democrats.

Both Pelosi and Emanuel noted their belief that “the intensity” in the 2006 election was on the side of Democrats, one attendee said.

Emanuel showed a PowerPoint presentation and a videotape documenting the Democrats’ chief political fundraising programs.

“It set a very positive tone in terms of Democratic prospects,” said Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.), who attended the meeting along with more than 100 other Democrats. “It reinforced the call to unity and the idea that we should roll up our sleeves.”

Pelosi again told Democrats that they need to remain unified to create a clear distinction between the agendas of the two parties.

Given the upbeat nature of the dinner and the belief of many Democrats that such unity is key to their election prospects, some members were upset that some Democrats were considering voting with Republicans on the lobbying bill yesterday.

“You have to ask yourself: Why provide health and welfare to a majority that hasn’t called, hasn’t written and hasn’t sent flowers?” said Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.).

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said members knew there would be consequences to bucking leadership.

“There are always repercussions,” he said. “Those factors are taken into account by leadership. … You can’t always make them vote with you, but you can make them wish they did.”