Dems' effective one-two punch

For Immediate Release:

May 5, 2009

Contact:Michael M. Gleeson and Bob Cusack

The Hill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is the most partisan Democrat in the House, while her deputy, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), is one of the most bipartisan lawmakers in the lower chamber, according to a survey conducted by The Hill.

The two Democratic leaders have established a good-cop-bad-cop modus operandi, which may be a key to their effectiveness since taking control in 2007.

Pelosi has developed a reputation for keeping her forces in line, rewarding loyalty, punishing dissent and sticking it to her Republican opponents; Hoyer is seen as a legislative dealmaker who moves the Democratic agenda along. This partnership, which has evolved out of bitter personal rivalry, gives the House Democrats a one-two punch against which the GOP has yet to formulate an effective response.

Over the last couple of months, The Hill asked more than 100 House lawmakers to name the hardest and easiest members to work with. Democrats were asked about Republicans and Republicans were asked about Democrats. Questions about the least bipartisan members were posed on a not-for-attribution basis so that lawmakers could discuss their views frankly.

The most partisan GOP legislator is Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), who heads the conservative Republican Study Committee. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) was a close second (see chart below).

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.) was deemed the second most partisan Democrat behind Pelosi.

As a Republican lawmaker said, “Everything I do to Henry I learned from him.”

Asked to describe the qualities that define a partisan, one member said, “The ones who are extreme ideologues, who are not open at all and have a narrow view of how Congress should work.”

Many Republicans criticized Pelosi’s style of running the House, contrasting the Speaker with President Obama, who has attracted praise from GOP officials for his inclusiveness.

“The Speaker doesn’t meet with Republicans,” a Republican lawmaker said.

“Nancy Pelosi has not been very friendly to me,” another GOP member said. “I tried to visit her and I have had trouble with that. I know she is busy … but it is difficult.”

“The Speaker honestly doesn’t like Republicans,” a third House Republican lawmaker said.

Not all Republicans blasted Pelosi. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) praised her for quickly embracing his idea to honor fallen U.S. troops during monthly moments of silence on the House floor.

But Hoyer is popular among Republicans. Several GOP members praised Hoyer for being approachable and for trying to reach consensus, when possible.

Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said that he was not surprised that Pelosi was singled out as the most partisan Democrat.

“As far back as I can remember and beyond that, every Speaker has been seen as a staunch partisan because being partisan comes with the job,” Baker said.

Asked about Hoyer’s different reputation, Baker responded, “It is a good cop/bad cop situation. She is the czarina, and he is conciliatory prime minister.”

Neither of the top two House Republicans, Reps. John Boehner (Ohio) and Eric Cantor (Va.), made the most-partisan list.

Democrats have tried to portray Cantor as “Mr. No,” claiming he simply rejects all Democratic proposals without offering his own solutions.

Yet Democrats on Capitol Hill are more irritated with Price and Foxx. One Democrat called Price “uncooperative” and Foxx “opaque.”

Explaining why Price was named so often, one member said, “[Price is] relentlessly partisan, never varies from talking points, is entirely predictable … and … never advances debate. He never suggests the possibility of common ground because there is no possibility of common ground.”

The other Republicans on the most-partisan list are Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Patrick McHenry (N.C.) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.).

Some House Republicans can’t stand Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.). One GOP lawmaker said Frank is “obnoxious and arrogant”; another called him “prickly.”

Others praised Frank.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, “He’s a guy you can sit down and deal with.”

Reps. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.) mentioned Frank as one of their favorite members to work with, adding that he always keeps his word.

Frank is the only House lawmaker who made both the bipartisan and partisan lists.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) is No. 3 on the partisan list of Democrats, followed by Frank and Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.).

Democrats from California were cited as the most partisan.

Other than Waxman and Pelosi, GOP lawmakers singled out Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.) as partisans.

Several panel chairmen were lauded as bipartisan, including Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.).

John Mica (R-Fla.) said Towns is “incredibly bipartisan,” while Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) said Towns “is not blinded by party affiliation.”

The 10 Democratic legislators who made the most-bipartisan list include both liberals and centrists, while the GOP list is composed mostly of middle-of-the-road members.

Republicans who made the most-bipartisan list included Reps. Mica, Ron Paul (Texas), Jones, John McHugh (N.Y.) and Steven LaTourette (Ohio).

Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.) said LaTourette is always calm and “seems to come up with some good ideas.”

Some lawmakers who were mentioned as partisan players in the House declined to name whom they enjoy working with on the other side of the aisle.

Stark said, “I can’t give you a favorite Republican because they’d be kicked out of the party!”

Waxman, whom many Republicans labeled an “ideologue,” said, “If I single one person out, it will hurt the feelings of the others.”

Waxman does have a Republican fan in the Senate. When The Hill last month asked senators about their feelings on who were the most partisan and bipartisan members, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he enjoys working with the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman.

Republicans in the lower chamber said they were exasperated by Pelosi’s promise to make the House more bipartisan, noting her decision to strip them of some procedural rights they had during the last Congress. They also took issue with her decision to ban smoking in the Speaker’s Lobby, which is an area just off the House floor where members congregate during votes.

That move, one member said, has reduced bipartisanship in the House because some Republicans and Democrats used to smoke cigars after a vote.

“That really makes a difference, because it takes about 30 minutes to smoke a cigar,” the lawmaker said.

Pelosi has rejected Republican charges of partisanship.

In March of this year, Pelosi said that “some people think there seems to be a market for saying that I am very partisan, and that I don’t give the Republicans their opportunity. That simply is not true.”

Still, Pelosi claims the barbs don’t affect her: “I’m in the arena. We have big issues. I can’t be bothered about what they say about me. All I’m interested in is getting the job done. And I really want to get it done in a bipartisan way.”

Many members have said bipartisanship in the House has been hampered by the fact that few legislators socialize with one another.

After the last vote of the week, most members are racing to make their planes back home, they noted.

Decades ago, more members would stay in Washington and would attend weekend social events with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“Members used to live in the same [Washington] neighborhoods,” Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said. “They used to go to the same churches. … This business of flying in and out erodes the civility of the House.”

One of the few ways to really get to know a member of the opposing party is on codels, or congressional delegation trips, several lawmakers said.

Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.

 

Most partisan Democrats

1.    Nancy Pelosi (Calif.)

2.    Henry Waxman (Calif.)

3.    John Conyers Jr. (Mich.)

4.    Barney Frank (Mass.)

5.    Jim McDermott (Wash.)

 
Most partisan Republicans

1.    Tom Price (Ga.)

2.    Virginia Foxx (N.C.)

3.    Jeb Hensarling (Texas)

4.    Patrick McHenry (N.C.)

5.    Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

 
Most bipartisan Democrats (listed alphabetically)

Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii)

Rick Boucher (Va.)

Bill Delahunt (Mass.)

Barney Frank (Mass.)

Steny Hoyer (Md.)

Jim Oberstar (Minn.)

Collin Peterson (Minn.)

Ike Skelton (Mo.)

Gene Taylor (Miss.)

Ed Towns (N.Y.)

 
Most bipartisan Republicans (listed alphabetically)

Judy Biggert (Ill.)

Bob Inglis (S.C.)

Walter Jones (N.C.)

Steven LaTourette (Ohio)

John McHugh (N.Y.)

John Mica (Fla.)

Ron Paul (Texas)

Lee Terry (Neb.)

Fred Upton (Mich.)

Bill Young (Fla.)

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