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November 20, 2010
Blue Dogs: Tireless in their quest for moderation
Just when House Republicans thought things couldn't get any better, House Democrats named Speaker Nancy Pelosi to run their new, almost historically-shrunken minority caucus.
The hyper-enthusiastic cheering heard on Capitol Hill following the Democrats' 150-43 vote came from the other side of the aisle.
At the other end of the Democrats' very narrow political spectrum, a decimated Blue Dog coalition elected new leadership, naming three co-chairs: Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Mike Ross of Arkansas and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.
Shuler earlier launched a doomed kamikaze mission to unseat Pelosi. He didn't expect to win - no one expected it - and he didn't, but he was eager to give future cover to himself and other Blue Dogs, all of whom had already voted twice to make Pelosi Speaker.
The rationale for Shuler's candidacy for leader, translated, meant: "Don't blame me/us. We voted against her." Too little, too late, sir.
Washington Post records on congressional voting patterns reveal that the "Votes with Party" percentages for the three new Blue Dog leaders are, respectively, 94.4% for Barrow, 95.0% for Ross and 83.9% for Shuler. As of today, November 19, 2010, the Democratic caucus average is 92.1%. In other words, two "conservative" Blue Dog leaders have raised the Democrats' party unity voting average and one has lowered it.
In fact, Rep. Shuler appears to be a renegade by Democratic standards. That is highly misleading.
Shuler is one of the Democrats in the House who has taken some pains to hide his party unity voting record. He has done it with Pelosi's approval and her help. Others in the Blue Dog coalition have done so also, including some who were unseated this year.
Periodically, at the start of daily business, the Speaker dispensed with the usual pro forma voice vote and called the roll to approve the prior day's Journal, as she did here, and here and here. Since she became Speaker, Mrs. Pelosi has done so a dozen to fifteen or more times each session. In each case, Rep. Shuler voted "No" with the Republicans, and the Journal passed without his vote in favor. In other words, Shuler voted against his Speaker and lowered his votes with party percentage.
Easy and painless. Who's the wiser? The rubes back home in the mountains of North Carolina won't notice.
Blue Dogs can call themselves anything they want in their districts - they may get away with it for a time - but, when they get to Washington, there is no such thing as a Blue Dog. They are merely conventional liberal Democrats representing right-leaning districts.
The next election cycle for House members isn't very far away. Voters' memories of Democratic excess and overreach will still be fresh in 2012. An energized grassroots will be watching both parties, but the Blue Dogs will be closely monitored to see how they align.
There will be plenty to watch.