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:
MEMBER VOTES AGAINST DEM LEADERSHIP
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
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