In the wake of last week's landmark passage of the House climate bill, conservatives have focused their fury on the handful of Republicans who voted in favor of the sweeping legislation.
Conservative commentators are blasting the eight Republican "aye" votes as betrayers of GOP principles and, perhaps more important, holding them accountable for the bill's seven-vote margin of passage, 219-212.
The eight Republicans are Mark Kirk of Illinois; Mike Castle of Delaware; Mary Bono Mack of California; Dave Reichert of Washington; John McHugh of New York; and Frank LoBiondo, Leonard Lance and Chris Smith of New Jersey.
"I don't think one can minimize why this was a truly hideous vote for those eight folks," a commentator on the conservative blog the "Next Right" wrote. "Here we had a chance to derail the Obama socialism train and restore the Republican party to policy relevance, and these guys bailed out so they could get a nice mention in the NY Times."
Rush Limbaugh on his radio show yesterday accused the eight of voting for the bill sponsored by Democrats Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts because of Wall Street's influence and argued that they should be voted out in 2010 along with Democrats who supported the legislation.
"You've got these northeastern Republicans -- New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, it's all the same -- who are tied to Wall Street," Limbaugh said.
He added, "This is an outrage. This is something that everybody who voted for this thing needs to be sent packing because it wasn't even written."
For many conservatives, the vote on the comprehensive energy and climate bill vote was one of the two test votes of party loyalty in the Obama administration's early days. The other was the vote in February on the economic stimulus plan. On that vote, no House Republican broke with party leadership.
So some conservatives are calling for the National Republican Congressional Committee to withhold funds from the eight lawmakers and for the active recruitment of primary opponents by party leadership.
"My question is, what message did House Whip Eric Cantor and Minority Leader John Boehner deliver to the eight Republican strays?" wrote Paul Chesser, head of the conservative Climate Strategies Watch, on the Web site of the American Spectator. "This was a vote that demanded principle and unanimity for a party that claims the mantle of lower taxes and limited government, and once again, it failed."
Chesser said GOP leaders should have threatened the eight with withholding campaign funds and primary opposition and should now remove them from any leadership posts. Those calls were picked up by several conservative bloggers and commentators.
The NRCC has heavily gone on the offensive against the potentially vulnerable Democrats who voted in favor of the climate bill, sending a series of press releases to their districts accusing them of betraying their constituents and vowing that the vote will have dire consequences come the 2010 election (Greenwire, June 29).
But thus far, neither the NRCC nor any member of the House Republican leadership has lobbed any direct criticism at the eight lawmakers who broke ranks.
The NRCC did not comment as of press time.
Some conservative commentators have argued that withholding NRCC funds may not be the right move. In the big picture, they say, Republican leaders have done a good job of using their relatively small numbers in the House to build opposition to the legislation.
"Some of the names on that list hurt to see, and a couple are exercises in teeth-grinding; but perfect is the enemy of the good, and Congressional Republicans have done a good job in using our lopsidedly minority status to the best effect possible," wrote one commentator on the popular Web site RedState.com. "Nobody's pretending that this was passed with bipartisan support. Nobody's even trying."
But those conservatives also argue Republicans should focus their energies on helping other members of their party who are in political danger yet voted against the bill. The eight GOP supporters of the climate bill, they say, should make amends by vocally opposing White House plans on health care and other major legislative priorities.
The eight House Republicans who voted in favor of the bill generally represent the remains of the party's moderate wing and some have to deal with political circumstances that are unique in the GOP caucus.
Both Kirk of Illinois and Castle of Delaware are reportedly exploring Senate candidacies in 2010. The two would be running in states where President Obama won overwhelmingly in 2008, the home states of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, respectively.
Many of the rest are potential Democratic targets in 2010, in no small part because they represent Democratic-leaning states where Republicans have shed a number of seats in recent years.
Bono Mack of California, who was also the only Republican to vote for the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee, already has a 2010 challenger who has started to campaign on bringing green jobs to her Southern California district. Reichert of Washington state has won each of his three congressional campaigns by narrow margins in a district and a state that places a premium on environmental issues.
Three of the other four -- McHugh, LoBiondo and Lance -- also represent districts where Obama prevailed in 2008.