On the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives, the tension was palpable.
After weeks of intense negotiations over the climate-change bill, during which the energy lobbies had exerted tremendous pressure on individual representatives, who were also feeling the heat from their engaged constituents, the final vote on the Waxman-Markey bill occurred on Friday, June 26.
The Democratic leadership knew that the final vote would be very close, and knew they must have a victory, leading Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be a constant force on the floor, tallying votes, confirming commitments, twisting arms; President Obama was also on The Hill speaking to as many undecided or recalcitrant representatives as would meet with him.
A Democratic legislator the leadership did not think they needed to worry about was Ciro Rodriguez of the Texas 23rd District. When Speaker Pelosi had polled him prior to the vote, he indicated he would vote “yes” on the measure, supporting his party’s longstanding commitment to enact much-needed legislation to begin to combat the effects of global warming.
He did not tell her the truth. When the time came to vote, instead he opposed the legislation, and then hustled off the crowded floor. Bedlam erupted. After Rodriguez sprinted out of the chamber, frustrated floor managers shouted after him and dispatched a search party. Politico blogger Glenn Thrush captured the high drama:
At one point, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner bounced from a huddle of leadership members and began calling the rep's name, like a wayward toddler, as he scanned the Speaker's Lobby and the adjacent balcony. “[Rodriguez] cast his 'no' and then ran the hell out of there," said a member of the whipping team, still steaming after the vote. "We tried him at his office and they said he was gone."
Why did Rodriguez say one thing and do another? Why did the former social worker not own up to his negative opinion about the legislation as a host of other Democrats had done? And why, like a child caught in the act, did he bolt from the floor - thereby compounding his guilt?
At one time Ciro was one of the best progressives in the House. That was during his first stint in Congress, from '97 to '05, when he represented CD 28. After Tom DeLay's redistricting, Ciro was defeated in a Democratic primary by fellow Blue Dog (and Bush lapdog) Henry Cuellar by a whopping 58 votes.
In my humble O, Rodriguez has done almost nothing since to merit that renewal.
Let's hope a real Democrat challenges this Blue Dog turncoat in 2010.