In the weeks since the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, it’s become clear that the bill was approved only because of some serious arm-twisting by Democratic leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) personally badgered wavering Democrats, even going so far as to pull one representative out of rehab so he could vote for the bill. Even with serious coercion from leadership, the House bill scraped by, with a vote of 219 to 212.
It doesn’t look likely that we’ll see the same hard-nosed approach in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been downplaying the majority’s ability to push through their agenda and even admitting that he’s “not very good at twisting arms.” The two leaders’ approaches are a world apart.
Let’s look at Pelosi first. The Hill has a fantastic account of just how serious Pelosi was about getting the bill passed:
Pelosi had publicly expressed confidence that the legislation, which she has repeatedly referred to as her flagship issue, would pass.
But privately, Pelosi knew she had few, if any, votes to spare. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) was pulled out of rehab to register his “yes” vote. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), recovering from back surgery, was seen walking gingerly before the vote.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), whose wife had pleaded guilty to bribery charges on Friday in Detroit, was in the lower chamber and ultimately voted for the climate change bill.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) was getting married the next day and needed to sign papers to resign her House seat after being confirmed by the Senate on Thursday for her new job at the State Department. Tauscher not only was in the House on Friday, she served as the presiding officer of the heated and partisan debate.
The only Democrat who didn’t vote was Rep Alcee Hastings (Fla.). Hastings, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was in Albania on Friday as an election observer.
And here’s Politico‘s account of how Pelosi targeted New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt:
One of Pelosi’s first targets was Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), a key fence-sitter who wanted more money generated from the carbon trading to be directed to the research and development of green technology.
Pelosi talked to him again and again, but he wouldn’t budge. Her message to him was the same as it was to others: It wasn’t worth voting against the bill because of what wasn’t in it. According to witnesses, Pelosi perched herself on the arm of Holt’s chair and went nose to nose with him for a half-hour warning him that his no vote could scuttle the entire climate change effort — and that liberals would have another chance to make their case once the bill came back from the Senate.
Around 2 o’clock, he became a “yes.”
Reid seems far less willing than his House counterpart to play hardball to get a climate and energy bill passed. Here he is in The New York Times discussing the Democrats’ 60-vote supermajority and why it won’t guarantee that the Dems’ agenda passes this year:
“We have 60 votes on paper,” Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said Wednesday in an interview. “But we cannot bulldoze anybody; it doesn’t work that way. My caucus doesn’t allow it. And we have a very diverse group of senators philosophically. I am not this morning suddenly flexing my muscles.”
And this, from a recent Congressional Quarterly profile:
Reid says he expects the tactic of gentle persuasion to work best, given the size of his Senate Democratic flock and the political divergences within it. “I don’t dictate how people vote,” he said in an interview this month. “If it’s an important vote, I try to tell them how important it is to the Senate, the country, the president … But I’m not very good at twisting arms. I try to be more verbal and non-threatening. So there are going to be — I’m sure — a number of opportunities for people who have different opinions not to vote the way that I think they should. But that’s the way it is. I hold no grudges.”
Senate leaders have postponed debate of a climate bill until September, in order to buy more time to persuade apprehensive Democrats. But when the bill comes up, will Reid actually crack the whip?