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Following two defections on key party votes by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met privately with Towns last week and threatened to pull his coveted Energy and Commerce Committee seat if he doesn’t start proving devotion to the party.
Sources said Pelosi, who has been increasingly tough on Democratic Caucus members who fail to show party unity, is furious that Towns missed a key Nov. 18 vote on the budget reconciliation measure and voted against the majority of Democrats in supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement earlier this year. The only other Democrat to miss the budget vote was Leonard Boswell of Iowa, who was away from Washington for health reasons.
Pelosi, the sources said, is still weighing whether to try to strip Towns of his committee seat. If she does, it would be the first time the Minority Leader has removed a Member on grounds of insufficient party discipline.
“You can’t walk away from a vote like that,” said one House Democratic staffer. “People were very angry about it. If you are on an exclusive committee, you have a responsibility to being part of the team, and part of the team means voting with the party on a key vote like CAFTA and being there on a key vote like budget reconciliation.
“He knew that would be a key vote,” the staffer added. “This was a big one.”
Another Democratic aide called Towns a “repeat offender.” A third staffer added that many Members remain frustrated that Towns, who holds a safe Democratic seat in New York City, can get away with bucking the party on consequential votes. Towns was elected with 91 percent of the vote in 2004.
“A number of Members have voiced concern that a Member on such an exclusive committee would be able to behave that way without repercussions,” said this staffer.
Towns, in his 12th term, did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday night. Pelosi’s office also declined to discuss anything related to the meeting.
But a senior Democratic aide sympathetic to Towns suggested that if House leaders — and Pelosi in particular — want to punish a Member over his or her votes, they should make their expectations clear. This source said Pelosi should have had words with Towns after the CAFTA vote.
The aide said if Towns didn’t know that missing the budget vote would put his status in peril, it would be unfair to hold him and his committee position accountable. “You’ve got to give people ample warning,” said the staffer.
Pelosi’s warning to Towns is not the first time she has taken after Caucus members over their party unity.
About a year ago, Pelosi threatened to keep Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) from advancing to the top Democratic slot on the Agriculture Committee unless he paid his party dues and started showing loyalty to party activities and on votes. Peterson ultimately won the slot, but only after vowing to Pelosi that he would be a team player and paying his dues for the first time in at least a decade.