House Dems, Obama, and Gore lobby last batch of fence-sitters; Ohio Democrats wriggle on the fence as House vote approaches

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"House Dems, Obama, and Gore lobby last batch of fence-sitters; Ohio Democrats wriggle on the fence as House vote approaches"

Note:  If you are in the districts of any of the fence-sitters named below — Democrat or Republican — or you know someone who is, now is the time to make your position known.

We are approaching zero-hour for the House on the Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill.  I’m also traveling today, so this update is mostly going to be extended excerpts from two E&E Daily (subs. req’d) pieces this morning on the final fence-sitters and Ohio:

House Democratic leaders continue their full-court press for votes today on a comprehensive energy and global warming bill slated for floor debate tomorrow, with backup help coming from the Obama administration and former Vice President Al Gore.

“Those last votes are always the hardest,” said Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, a sophomore Democrat who is helping sponsors with the whip count. “This is tough legislation. Any time you’re making a transition from where you were to where you want to go is a little disruptive and the benefit of the doubt many people give to being hesitant.”

According to an E&E analysis of the floor debate, Democrats still have their work cut out for them. Even with an agreement reached this week with Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), sponsors still remain about 35 votes short of the 218 needed to pass the climate legislation.

Fence-sitters include dozens of Republicans and a number of Midwestern and Southern Democrats, as well as many lawmakers who were first elected to the House in 2006 and 2008.

“It’s tough sometimes to get to a hard ‘yes’ on an issue like this,” explained Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “I don’t know that we’ll get to the point where you say we have 218 hard yeses. But I think we’re so close now, and there’s so many undecideds leaning ‘yes,’ that there’s a sense once you put it on the floor, they’re going to vote with us.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s schedule yesterday underscored just how much she is working to try and pass the bill. Pelosi had individual meetings with Democratic freshmen and sophomores, as well as five members of the Ohio Democratic delegation [see story below], and seven Republicans who are considered potential supporters (Mike Castle of Delaware, Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Leonard Lance and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, Thomas Petri of Wisconsin and Dave Reichert of Washington).

During one floor vote, Pelosi was also in plain view of several reporters personally lobbying Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) on the climate bill.

“We’re in a very listening mode,” Pelosi told reporters later in the day. “We have been all along. To say to members, ‘Where are you on the bill and what are your concerns, are there any questions can we answer?’”

Anticipating a floor vote as early as tomorrow, Democrats will transition from listen mode to vote-counting mode this morning during a caucus meeting where the whip team presses its members for a more accurate assessment.

Several Obama officials are also busy working the phones and holding in-person meetings, including with Republicans. Castle had a meeting scheduled yesterday with White House energy adviser Carol Browner, while Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) said he got phone calls from three Cabinet secretaries, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Also, a small group of sophomore Democrats have invitations for a West Wing visit with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. Emanuel met yesterday on the climate bill and other issues with a half-dozen Democratic freshmen: Reps. Bobby Bright of Alabama, Jim Hines of Connecticut, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Larry Kissel of North Carolina, Betsy Markey of Colorado and Mark Schauer of Michigan.

“Just a very good general conversation with a number of members, talking about their districts, and how this bill would impact our districts,” Schauer said, adding that he remains “undecided” on the legislation. Obama did not personally stop by the meeting at the White House, the lawmaker added.

Gore, the Nobel Laureate former vice president, is scheduled to address Democrats later this afternoon to talk about an issue that he made an Academy Award-winning movie about.

But it is far from clear how much help the outreach from Gore or the Obama officials will have on the fence-sitters.

“I always like seeing my friends, but when it comes down to the bottom of it, it’s my district that means the most right now,” said Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), one of two freshmen who told E&E they had turned down yesterday’s invitation to meet at the White House with Emanuel.

Looking at the floor schedule, Pelosi yesterday said she was still aiming to start debate on the climate legislation tomorrow, though she also hedged on the timing because of Republican efforts over the last week that have forced a record number of floor votes on procedural motions.

“I’m hoping we’ll do it Friday,” Pelosi said. “Our members would like to do it. But as I said, we’ll take it to the floor when we are ready. That is what I have always said.”

Pelosi shrugged off questions from reporters that it sounded like she was backing away from a Friday vote. But Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill later issued a statement on the timing of the climate floor debate. “We intend to have a vote this week,” he said. “The speaker’s comments today were an acknowledgment of the continuing delaying tactics on the House floor.”

So no, a vote Friday (or Saturday) is not 100%.  As an aside, Senate majority leader Reid apparently wants all committees of jurisdiction over the climate and clean energy bill to finish their work by September 18.  Sen. James Inhofe (R-OIL), on the other hand, is trying to scare House Dems into thinking they are taking a pointless political risk, claiming “There’s no way they can get the votes to pass it.”  I’ll take that bet.  The Senate will pass this bill if, as now seems likely, the White House makes a full-court press.  But back to the House:

A few minutes after Pelosi made her pitch to Bishop on the bill, he joined Reps. Al Green of Texas and Mel Watt of North Carolina for a question-and-answer session with Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), the author of key provisions to the bill.

The long sequences of House floor votes on a series of fiscal 2010 appropriations bills have been helpful forums to lobby members on the climate legislation, Markey said. “We have a lot of members on our list and all of these roll calls that are being called are helping us to have the members come out so that we can move one to one and have conversations, hear their concerns and try and reconcile their concerns to the goal of gaining a vote on Friday.”

Concerns are coming from all corners.

Ways and Means Committee member Ron Kind (D-Wis.) said he still wants to see a district-by-district assessment of the climate bill’s economic implications, either from the Congressional Budget Office or the Congressional Research Service.

“I’ve got more questions than answers now,” Kind said. “I don’t know what’s going to transpire in the next 24 to 48 hours to move someone like me and others who have equal concerns.”

Kind said he was also struggling with how to publicly defend his vote — should he opt to support the legislation. “It’s a big bill,” he said. “It’s complicated. You’ve got to be able to explain this in 30 seconds to a minute with folks back home for them to feel comfortable with it. I haven’t been able to figure that out yet.”

Several lawmakers took more definitive positions too. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D) said he would vote against the bill despite concessions made for agriculture. And all three New Mexico Democrats came out for the legislation.

Amid all the chaos, several top Democratic leaders expect a victory.

“I think we’re going to have the votes, yes,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Peterson, who helped negotiate several major issues for rural state lawmakers, dismissed a reporter’s question that Pelosi was gambling in trying to move the climate bill to the floor when she is short of the votes.

“The president wants it to come up,” Peterson said. “But I don’t think she’s going to bring it to the floor on any kind of roll of the dice. It’s going to come to the floor when it’s ready, when people’s questions are answered.”

And here are some excerpts from the E&E piece on Ohio Dems:

A key battleground state in last year’s presidential election, Ohio once again is vital to Democrats as they hunt for votes to pass landmark climate change and energy legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met yesterday with six of the 10 Democratic House members from the Buckeye State. Five of the six involved in the meeting are either leaning against the bill or are undecided, as is another Democrat in the delegation.

A bill that caps carbon emissions is a tough sell for a state that is heavily reliant on coal for its electricity. But winning the trust of Ohio residents — and the people they have sent to Congress — might be the even tougher hurdle.

Hard hit by the closure of steel mills and the collapse of the auto industry, Ohio’s statewide unemployment rate nears 11 percent. After watching many previous promises about better times come to nothing, analysts and lawmaker aides said, there is an abiding skepticism and mistrust of government solutions.

“There’s a deep sense of fear of things changing over time,” said Paul Beck, political science professor at Ohio State University. “The kinds of economic activities that have made Ohio a big strong state are in decline. There’s a sense of the old days eroding.”

The bill sets out to create new, cleaner energy jobs. But that is not especially appealing to much of Ohio, said Beck, because “they’ve heard this before.” As steel mills closed, he said, politicians promised workers they would be retrained for high-tech jobs.

In the end, “those high-tech jobs were not there,” Beck said. “They were elsewhere.”

Democratic House members from Ohio who have not taken a firm “yes” or “no” position on the bill are Reps. Steve Driehaus, a freshman; Charlie Wilson, in his second term; Marcy Kaptur, in her 14th term; Marcia Fudge, in her second term; freshman Mary Jo Kilroy; and freshman John Boccieri.

Kilroy, Boccieri, Kaptur and Fudge met yesterday with Pelosi, along with Rep. Betsy Sutton (D-Ohio). Sutton voted in favor of passing the bill out of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We’re in a very listening mode,” Pelosi said yesterday. “We have been all along. To say to members, ‘Where are you on the bill and what are your concerns, are there any questions can we answer?’”

All of the undecided Ohio Democrats likely are the focus of intense lobbying by companies and groups for and against the bill. Coal and utility lobbyists are targeting moderate Democrats, those in states reliant on coal, freshmen, and those in seats that were recently held by Republicans or where voters picked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the presidential election. Environmental groups also are lobbying moderate Democrats.

Both Wilson and Kaptur are leaning toward “no” votes on the bill, their aides said. The other four offices did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Wilson holds the 6th District seat, situated in the southeastern Appalachian region.

He won the seat with 62 percent of the vote in 2008. But that is a misleading statistic, said David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report. Republicans failed to put up a strong opponent in the last election, Wasserman said, and the district favored McCain over Barack Obama in the White House race.

So far this month, there have been 1,300 e-mails from constituents into Wilson’s office, with about 90 percent of those addressing the energy bill. Of those, only one has supported the bill, said Wilson spokeswoman Hillary Wicai Viers.

“He is very concerned about the cost to consumers and the cost to energy intensive industries like steel,” Viers said. “Steel is one of the major employers in our district. There have been massive layoffs of steel workers in our district in the past couple months.”

Also in Wilson’s district, Beck said, “there’s sort of a coal mining culture.

“Coal has been a fundamental part of that economy for decades,” Beck said. “There still is a feeling that it’s a resource we have, we could possibly return to good times if coal wasn’t priced out of the market.”

Kaptur, whose 9th District seat includes Toledo, is leaning toward a “no” vote on the bill because she believes it will penalize Ohio with its dependence on coal, said the spokesman for the lawmaker, Steve Fought.

Kaptur wants to add language that would create a power marketing authority in Ohio. Similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority, it would be able to finance and develop renewable power projects, Fought said. “She’s holding out for that,” Fought said. “Otherwise we’ll be left with higher electricity rates.”

Ohio workers also blame the government for jobs disappearing after the North American Free Trade Agreement passed, Fought said. That treaty set up rules for trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“A lot of people here feel that the government walked away from them,” Fought said. “There’s skepticism about Washington solutions.”

Like Kaptur, Fudge also has a safe seat, with an “absurdly Democratic” district, Wasserman said. There is not much risk to her in supporting the bill, he said.

Of the other Democrats in the delegation who are undecided on the bill, Wasserman said Driehaus and Kilroy are the most politically vulnerable.

Kilroy won her seat with 46 percent of the vote in a five-candidate race. Driehaus won his 1st District seat in southwestern Ohio with 52 percent of the vote. He unseated Republican Steve Chabot, who had held it for 14 years. Chabot plans to run again in 2010, Wasserman said.

Driehaus’ 2008 victory was helped by African American voter turnout, Wasserman said. But the district, which includes Cincinnati, voted for Obama over McCain and some may support new climate policies. “He could go either way on this,” Wasserman said of Driehaus. “He’s vulnerable.”

Kilroy, Wasserman said, ran a fairly liberal race and may support the bill.

Boccieri’s 16th District is a swing seat, largely switching back and forth between parties in the the last few elections. Boccieri won it with 55 percent of the vote in an open race. The Republican who had held it earlier retired.

Boccieri is young and dynamic, Wasserman said, and the GOP is having a hard time finding a good candidate for 2010. A vote for the climate bill “might encourage Republicans to think seriously about entering into a race against him,” Wasserman said. There is also skepticism in the district about Obama’s stimulus plan, he said.

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5 Responses to House Dems, Obama, and Gore lobby last batch of fence-sitters; Ohio Democrats wriggle on the fence as House vote approaches

  1. Rick Covert says:

    Joe,

    So is the Waxman-Markey bill worth half a wedge? Al Green is my congressman and he is in Texas district 9 which covers a lot of the west side of Houston, the oil capitol of the world, so he’ll be getting a call from me today. In reality most people on this side of town who work in the oil industry work in the nice clean offices and don’t get their hands dirty in the refineries. So it will take some convincing to get him on board even though he is quite a progressive congressman. I’d give in a 97% rating for his votes on progressive issues and he gets peak oil and global warming. He’s a smart guy open to reason.

    The Senate is a whole other ball game. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, I think, can be counted on to vote no, for purely economic reasons. John Cornyn who ran during his campaign as being a non-partisan ;) politician has in fact been extremely partisan and it’s a real safe bet he will vote no because this is Texas, the land of the pump jack, he is heavily tied to big oil and most importantly he will vote no for purely ideological reasons.

  2. Enviroleader says:

    I think we’ll get yes votes from several of the Ohio Dems. Mary Jo Kilroy cares as much about environmental protection as anyone. Sutton voted very well in the committee votes. I think some of the others you name will come through. Ohio Dems have traditionally voted right on environmental issues.

  3. Enviroleader says:

    What you can’t do is make out a path to passage without Senator Sherrod Brown. But that’s the next hurdle. And we need to strengthen the bill.

  4. Albert says:

    “It’s complicated. You’ve got to be able to explain this in 30 seconds to a minute with folks back home for them to feel comfortable with it. I haven’t been able to figure that out yet.”

    How about, “I voted to save the world, rather than destroy it”?

  5. Mossy says:

    Excuse me, but I am originally from OH, and I go crazy when I read information like this.

    Ohioans are resposible for voting Bush into office twice. If they also succeed in bringing down ACES with their ignorance, I think Ohio should be forced to absorb all the environmental refugees of the Maldives, and Lake Erie should be drained to provide water for the parched southwest.

    Don’t Ohioans understand that their beloved maple trees will soon be unable to survive climate change? Of course they don’t; the misinformation campaign has been hugely successful in Ohio. To truly have a democracy, we must have an informed public. This has not happened with global warming, and the politicians themselves have not even studied the issue enough to undetrand it. If they did, they would schedule a press conference and explain to their electorate that they must vote for this bill in order to try to save humanity.

    This is what leadership is all about.

    I