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The Politics of Adjournment

Need more evidence that the oil drilling issue is giving Democratic leaders headaches? Look no further than the vote that occurred a few hours ago in the House on a resolution adjourning the chamber for the August recess.

The resolution, which passed 213-212, calls for the chamber to adjourn later this week and return the week of Sept. 8, and Republicans unanimously voted against it to protest against Democrats not giving them the chance to vote on opening up more domestic land and offshore territory to oil and gas exploration. But the interesting part of the vote was that 17 Democrats joined the GOP in voting against adjournment.

It is extremely rare for members of the majority to vote against adjournment resolutions drafted by their own leaders. The 17 Democrats who voted "nay" on the resolution were all moderates or facing tough reelection races, or both. The fact that they were wary of being charged by the GOP with wanting to leave town without a drilling vote shows how the politics of the drilling issue are playing out. (The National Republican Congressional Committee has already started blasting out releases accusing Democrats who did vote to adjourn of casting "a deciding vote" in favor of taking a "vacation" rather than "addressing [the] energy crisis.")

Democratic leaders have been saying for weeks that they feel confident in their own position -- which mainly emphasizes encouraging production on land that has already been opened to drilling -- and that the GOP will not get much mileage out of this. But it seems like some of the most vulnerable Democrats don't share that same confidence.

One footnote: The 10 lawmakers -- six Democrats and four Republicans -- who didn't show up for the adjournment vote included House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who was off at Free Congress Foundation President Paul Weyrich's regular Wednesday meeting of conservative leaders. As a general rule, it's a bad idea for a party whip to miss a tally on which his side loses by a single vote. Of course, if Blunt had been there Democratic leaders likely would have persuaded one of their own members to switch and ensure victory. But Blunt could at least have made the Democrats' job a little harder.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 30, 2008; 5:30 PM ET
Categories:  Agenda , Dem. Leaders , GOP Leaders , House  
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