House Democratic leaders are working furiously to round up the votes on a major global warming and energy bill ahead of a roll call on final passage where the fate is still uncertain.
"We're getting there, but we're not there yet," said Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the majority whip, later telling reporters the majority has the 218 necessary votes, but "maybe 217."
This morning, the House adopted the rule for debate on the climate bill, 217-205.
"I think we're going to be OK," added Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Asked if he was nervous about the proposal, Hoyer replied, "I'm always concerned."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would not comment directly when reporters pressed for a whip count. "We'll find out when we take the vote," she said on one of her many trips to the floor, where she went member-by-member trying to sway reluctant Democrats. During one of the morning roll calls, Pelosi spent several minutes with Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), who won his last election with 65 percent of the vote.
Democrats hold 256 seats in the House but cannot count on all of their members as they try to pass the legislation with only minimal GOP support. To help buy themselves more time, Pelosi today abruptly shifted the House back onto the fiscal 2010 appropriations bill for the Interior Department and U.S. EPA so as to continue working members on the floor.
"Convenient, isn't it?" said one top leadership aide.
Hoping to force the final climate vote sooner than the Democrats want, Republicans withdrew several requests for recorded votes on amendments to the spending bill. Democrats objected, drawing hoots from Republicans as they acknowledged the majority's predicament.
The House is expected to return to debate on the climate bill around 1 p.m. today with three hours of debate on the Democratic proposal, as well as a half hour dedicated to a Republican alternative. Aides say they are planning on a final passage vote after 4 p.m.
With such a close vote ahead, Democrats clung on to every member they could. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), confirmed last night by the Senate for a top job in the State Department, said she would wait until the end of the day to resign her seat in order to vote for the climate bill.
Or consider the plight of Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a longtime supporter of cap-and-trade legislation, who spoke up on the floor this morning to declare his opposition because the measure was not strong enough. Supporters of the legislation clearly did not want to take "no" for an answer, as Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Pelosi aides continued pressing him during a conversation on the House floor.
A similar situation played out in a far corner of the Speaker's Lobby just off the House floor as Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) explained the legislation to Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio), who earlier this week told E&E he would vote against the legislation.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) broke the news to Brian Wolff, a former Pelosi aide now lobbying for the Edison Electric Institute, while giving him a hug in the hallway outside the House floor. Herseth Sandlin explained that she still was not pleased with compromises reached on biofuels and free allowances for rural electric cooperatives. "What was sufficient to satisfy some was not for me," she said.
Freshman Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) said he would hold onto his vote until the very end. "I'm learning as fast as I can," he said.
As for the Republicans, several minority members blasted the Democrats for forcing the floor debate today without giving lawmakers enough time to review the legislation.
"They stuffed us!" said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "They ought to be running a Sports Authority store selling socks cause they are stuffing socks in our mouths."
"This bill needs to be pulled today," added Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas). Barton, a longtime skeptic on the science behind man-made global warming, said lawmakers should come back next month or after the summer recess to take up the proposal.
Obama officials continued their campaign to win votes, with behind-the-scenes phone calls from the president and other top administration officials. The White House Office of Management and Budget issued an unusually short four-paragraph Statement of Administration Policy declaring that Obama "strongly supports" the bill, but it stayed clear of details on the 1,201-page measure.
This morning also saw several more lawmakers firm up their position. Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, gave a thumbs up when asked how he would vote. Republican Reps. Tom Rooney of Florida and Judy Biggert of Illinois both said they will oppose the legislation.
Click here to read the Statement of Administration Policy.
Reporters Eric Bontrager, Katherine Ling, Allison Winter, Josh Voorhees, Noelle Straub and Christa Marshall contributed.