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 related story), 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."
Floor vote approaching
With the floor debate approaching, lawmakers and lobbyists were scurrying yesterday to find room for last-minute changes.
For example, New York Democratic Reps. Maurice Hinchey, John Hall and Dan Maffei were spotted in a public hallway just outside the House press gallery yesterday evening pressing the bill's lead co-authors, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to ensure the bill does not penalize existing hydroelectric power plants.
"Everyone's got their own regional issue," Hall said.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) made a surprise appearance on the House floor last night, speaking to about seven Democratic and Republican lawmakers about the prospects of action on the climate issue in the Senate.
"I was allaying the concerns of a lot of them who didn't know what was going to happen in the Senate on cap and trade and what I felt," Inhofe said afterward. "Or, it's better said what was not going to happen in the Senate. There's no way they can get the votes to pass it."
In the Senate, Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) hopes to mark up a cap-and-trade measure before lawmakers depart for the August recess.
A Senate aide said there is a "general agreement" among the chairs of other committees with jurisdiction on climate to submit their proposed additions to the bill by Sept. 18. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he hoped to bring a climate and energy package to the floor this fall. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a broad-based collection of energy measures earlier this month.
Back in the House, informal meetings on the floor are also common. 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."
'Assuming' no GOP support
As expected, Republicans are largely lining up against the Democrat-sponsored climate bill.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his chief deputy whip, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), attended yesterday's weekly meeting of GOP moderates to try to keep the opposition unified.
GOP lawmakers also took shots at the economic consequences of the legislation. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri told reporters the climate bill would raise energy prices "from Pittsburgh to Wyoming" because those parts of the country are most reliant on coal.
"Only liberals in this Congress would figure out a way not to use this," Blunt said, referring to coal use.
Only a handful of moderate Republicans remain in limbo, and none of them are showing their cards yet.
"Lot of details, lot of moving parts, doing a lot of listening right now," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.). "No decision made."
"I'm still in the investigatory stages," said Reichert, citing his former line of work as a detective. "We're still in the process of gathering facts. This was a great meeting."
Castle, who is weighing a Senate bid in 2010, said he remains on the fence but does not want to change anything specific about the legislation. "I need to understand it better. My staff's given me a memo. I really just need two to three hours to really work through all this and understand it."
Democrats have honed in on about 11 Republicans who in years past have shown an interest in climate change, and Markey said he was hopeful some will support the bill.
"We are very optimistic that we will be receiving a level of Republican support," Markey said, arguing that the lawmakers would not have come to a meeting with Pelosi if they were not at least considering a "yes" vote.
But even as Pelosi makes her pitch to the Republicans, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a lead member of the Democratic whip team, said he is not counting on any GOP support as he counts votes. "For whip purposes, we're assuming the worst that we'll have absolutely no help from Republican colleagues," he said.
Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed.