WASHINGTON – The White House is putting pressure on House Democrats to support the troubled $1.1 trillion spending bill that includes provisions they object to -- like reversals of the Wall Street regulations in the Dodd-Frank law and increases to political donation limits. The effort to pass a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown has turned into a Democratic internal war, pitting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi against President Barack Obama. Obama's ally in this fight? House Speaker John Boehner. Yes, these are strange times.
The White House, including Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, spent Thursday evening phoning Democratic members they hope will flip their votes and support the spending bill. Without Democrats, the bill has little chance of gaining passage on the House floor. Conservative Republicans are also opposing the legislation because they feel it doesn't go far enough to fight the president on his immigration executive orders.
The bill seemed poised to move quickly through Congress, but progress screeched to a halt on Thursday afternoon when it became clear there weren't enough votes to pass the measure. The delay appeared to be necessary to allow the White House to try to find more Democrats who would vote yes.
The division is a real test of alligence for House Democrats. For years, many have felt Obama has done little to work with their caucus or move their goals foward. And after losing seats in the midterm election, many expressed unhappiness with Pelosi for not doing enough to keep members in office.
In a show of force, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough showed up at a caucus meeting House Democrats called Thursday night to discuss their response to the spending bill, which must be passed by midnight to avoid a government shutdown. McDonough has spent almost two years working to improve the relationship with Congressional Democrats and is frequently praised by members.
Pelosi has been critical of the president’s support of the spending bill, criticizing the bill on the House floor. She wants the Dodd-Frank and campaign finance provisions stripped from the bill and is trying to withhold Democratic support to use as leverage. Pelosi has long been considered an outstandingly effective whip, meaning she can get her memebrs to vote down party lines. She flexed her muscles during the last government shutdown. And she appears to be flexing them again.
Entering the caucus meeting on Thursday night, Pelosi had little to say about her discussions with the White House. “I’ve spoken to the president about a range of subjects,” she said.
But she was clear about her views in an email to all House Democrats. “However you decide to vote in the end, I thank those who continue to give us leverage to improve the bill,” Pelosi wrote.
Other Democrats have picked up the whipping effort. Rep. Maxine Waters, the ranking member on the House Financial Services, called an emergency meeting to try to get other members to help rally opposition to the bill. “In about 5 minutes, 25 members showed up,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said.
— Maxine Waters (@MaxineWaters) December 11, 2014
Democrats are making the fight over Dodd-Frank about stopping future taxpayer bailouts for banks. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is trying to work with House Democrats to change the bill, has focused the ire of opponents on Citigroup.
Citigroup is holding government funding hostage to ram through its government bailout provision. Join me in opposing the #CitigroupShutdown
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 11, 2014
Schakowsky said the effort by the White House to flip votes doesn’t appear to be working. “I’ve talked to a number of people who have gotten calls and they are certainly respectful of the White House and the administration, but they are absolutely committed to a no vote,” Schakowsky said.
In a sign of just how much opposition there is to the bill among House Democrats, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey, who helped write the bill, refused to say whether she will even support it. She blamed Republicans for not delivering more votes.
“I think it’s up to those who are in charge to show some leadership and they can’t seem to get any votes, so it’s up to them,” Lowey said.