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The Freshmen 42: Gimme a 'P' for Pelosi

Far from running from their leadership, the 42 freshmen House Democrats have voted in near lockstep with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats in the first seven weeks of the 110th Congress.

From votes on Iraq resolutions to creating alternative fuel sources, the freshmen have stuck with Pelosi of California and other Democratic leadership through this honeymoon period that surely won't last forever.

The group of 42 freshmen, 30 of whom claimed seats previously held by Republicans, has now cast more than 4,000 votes, combined, on the House floor. Yet only 14 freshmen have cast even one vote against Pelosi and the majority of Democrats, for a grand total of 20 votes against the leadership position. That's more than 99 percent of their votes being cast with leadership, according to Capitol Briefing's analysis of the 102 recorded roll call votes this year.

Today's post marks the start of a regular feature in Capitol Briefing on freshmen House Democrats. This new group has been dubbed "majority makers" by Pelosi and other leaders, examining everything from voting patterns to fund-raising totals. This is the largest group of freshmen one party has elected since 1994, when 73 Republicans stormed into the chamber and immediately joined the revolution led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

A dozen of those class of 1994 House babies were immediately voted out of office in 1996. That is something that Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is working to avoid.

Many of those GOP freshmen eventually started running from then-Speaker Gingrich, distancing themselves from his unpopular leadership style.

The freshmen Democrats of the 110th instead have embraced Pelosi. Part of the early unity is masked by the fact that almost 80 of the votes cast this year were procedural in nature, or resolutions that would not make a broad impact such as honoring collegiate athletics championships.

But a pair of other factors has slightly skewed the other 20-some votes. Democrats have in all but one instance refused to allow Republicans to offer alternate amendments to the bills on the floor. With carefully worded language, even the somewhat controversial vote on allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices produced a unanimous vote of the entire Democratic caucus.

In addition, Pelosi continues to remain a popular figure in every part of the nation, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll coming out today. There will be a follow-up post after 5 p.m. breaking down Pelosi's popularity among all sub-sectors of the electorate.

With no fear of political retaliation back home, freshmen Democrats in even the reddest of districts can, for now, feel free to cozy up to their leadership.

Take the Iraq resolution just before the Presidents' Day recess. All 42 freshmen joined the leadership, even Reps. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana and Nick Lampson of Texas, each of whom hails from a very conservative district.

Van Hollen said the Iraq war and President Bush have become so unpopular that these votes won't hurt these freshmen. "For a lot of these new members, Iraq was a central part of their campaign," Van Hollen told Capitol Briefing after the vote. "Everyone made a vote, I think, that will be supported by their constituents."

Here's a breakdown of the number of times freshmen have voted against the majority of their Democratic caucus:


Chris Carney (Pa.) 2

Brad Ellsworth (Ind.) 2

Baron Hill (Ind.) 2

Heath Shuler (N.C.) 2

Zack Space (Ohio) 2

Charlie Wilson (Ohio) 2

Jason Altmire (Pa.) 1

Bruce Braley (Iowa) 1

Joe Donnelly (Ind.) 1

John Hall (N.Y.) 1

Phil Hare (Ill.) 1

Ron Klein (Fla.) 1

Patrick Murphy (Pa.) 1

Joe Sestak (Pa.) 1

By Paul Kane  |  February 26, 2007; 2:42 PM ET
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42 is the answer.

Sadly we have no hope of these folks figuring out the question.

Posted by: Kim | February 26, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

nice work Paul. These smart stats suggest you were trained at the University of Roll Call.

Posted by: jim v | February 26, 2007 8:10 PM | Report abuse

"Here's a breakdown of the number of times freshmen have voted against the majority of their Democratic caucus"

I count only 14 on this list; presumably the answer for the other 28 is zero?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 27, 2007 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I liked your web site. Cool.

Posted by: Billopx | March 9, 2007 5:30 AM | Report abuse

Over 4000 lockstep votes! My goodness!

Oh wait, it's only 102. And wait, 80% of them were procedural or other flimflam that doesn't count.

So we're down to around 20 votes. Doesn't it make sense that, three months into Congress, that the Democrats are probably pretty unified? They share similar ideology. The American people voted them in so they wouldn't vote like Republicans - because America has soured a bit on the current Republican leadership.

Also, Pelosi has a vested interest in keeping her caucus together to resist Republican pressure. Maybe she hasn't pushed really controversial bills yet? Maybe everyone's voting in "lockstep" on bills that the whole Democratic ideology can support? Keep in mind that the Democrats are traditionally far more heterogenous in specific opinions.

"Lockstep" is a bad thing. But I'm afraid that with this article, the author is using coincidence to try and accuse the freshmen Democrats of "not representing their constituents." Show me several concrete examples where freshmen Democrats have renounced campaign pledges or turned back against previously-held beliefs to vote with Pelosi just b/c it's Pelosi, and then I'll care.

Posted by: Mike | March 12, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I liked your site.

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