Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi was the odd person out when the Democratic-led Senate and the Democratic president joined most House Republicans in backing a $1.1 trillion spending bill she opposed.
It was an unusual spot late Thursday for the veteran California lawmaker, who did as much as anyone to help President Barack Obama enact his landmark health care law and wind down the war in Iraq.
Pelosi, like many other House liberals, called the spending bill a sop to big banks and big political donors. She said she was “enormously disappointed” the White House backed it.
But she stopped short of going all out to block it, which would have involved “whipping” her fellow Democrats.
Less than three hours before the government was to run out of money, Pelosi found herself the leader of a liberal faction outnumbered by a combination of pragmatists in her party, in the GOP and in a White House that’s bracing for further compromises with a Congress soon to be controlled by Republicans.
The 219-206 House vote saved Obama from embarrassment and a quick renewal of bitter partisan fights over short-term spending bills. But it couldn’t hide his strained relations with Democrats who largely blame his sagging popularity for their Nov. 4 midterm election setbacks. They lost the Senate majority and a dozen House seats. Pelosi’s defiance followed highly unusual public criticisms of Obama by the top aide to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.
Many other prominent House Democrats also rebuffed the White House and its last-minute lobbying efforts Thursday.
“The president and the vice president are free to make their calls, but they don’t have a vote on the floor of the House,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who headed the Democrats’ election efforts this year.
Still, the budget issue split Pelosi’s House leadership team. The second- and third-ranking party leaders — Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland Jim Clyburn of South Carolina — voted for the bipartisan bill. So did the national Democratic Party chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
The 57 House Democrats who voted for the $1.1 trillion measure nearly offset the 67 Republicans who voted against it, averting huge problems for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
In a final statement before the vote, Pelosi sounded like a parent letting her rebellious children know how much they will disappoint her.
“I’m giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do,” Pelosi said at the end of a two-hour closed caucus meeting before the vote, according to an aide. “We have enough votes to show them never to do this again,” she said, referring to Republican-backed provisions to loosen restrictions on banks and big political donors.
Several Democrats said all their political options were distasteful. Had they kept the spending bill from passing, Congress probably would have enacted a stop-gap measure to fund the government until early 2015, when Republicans will control both chambers, not just the House.
Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, rushed to the Capitol for the closed Democratic caucus, where he “made a pretty good case,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. “He said it’s only going to get worse” if the $1.1 trillion bill failed.
But that bill infuriated liberals who wanted Obama to oppose the banking and political donations provisions. Those were “poison pills” that “reward big banks and big donors,” Israel said.
Pelosi made her feelings known without completely boxing herself in.
Emerging from the closed Democratic caucus meeting before the vote, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said Pelosi made clear that “she was not going to vote for it, and she’s not going to whip to bail them (Republicans) out. But she was very evenhanded.”
Pelosi, a veteran of countless political struggles, already was smoothing the way for future dealings with the White House. When McDonough left the still-crowded caucus meeting, in a hallway hidden from most reporters and lawmakers, Pelosi stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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