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Pelosi Prodding Caucus on Climate

With her flagship project and the strength of her leadership muscle on the line, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday launched a buzzer-beater: trying to sell skeptical members of her Caucus on sweeping climate change legislation before they break for the July Fourth recess.

The gambit appears to be working. House Democratic leaders sounded optimistic about their progress after a day of hunting intensely for new backers of the 1,200-plus-page package. The biggest bloc of holdouts has been farm-state Democrats, but Pelosi scored a critical boost Tuesday when Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who had led the opposition for that group, struck a deal with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that secured Peterson’s support.

Pelosi and her whips on Wednesday took advantage of back-to-back protest votes forced by Republicans to buttonhole wavering lawmakers. But senior Democratic aides said it was the Speaker, in particular, who was devoting her full force to the effort.

“She’s going all out,” one said.

Pelosi immediately put Peterson to work, touting the package to the Democratic Caucus in a Tuesday night meeting, to freshmen and sophomores in their respective weekly huddles on Wednesday, and in a separate sit-down with members of his Agriculture panel. “Peterson’s support has been very huge,” one senior Democratic aide said.

Pelosi also was calling in another big gun Thursday to rally support — former Vice President Al Gore, who has become the face of the effort to combat global warming. He is expected to appear on Capitol Hill today to make the case for the package.

But in a sign of the work left to be done, many moderate Democrats said they still have questions or concerns about the package and either cannot yet say whether they support it or are leaning against it.

“There’s still a lot of skepticism until we see the language,” said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a member of the Agriculture panel and whip for the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 52 Democrats mostly from rural areas.

Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.), next in line behind Peterson on the Agriculture Committee, said he is a “definite no,” and another panel member, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), described himself as “undecided, leaning no.” Cuellar said Pelosi, in seeking his vote, advertised the changes aimed at farm-state interests, but he is still worried about the measure’s impact on consumers and said agriculture groups back home still have concerns.

Peterson told reporters Wednesday that he expects a “pretty substantial majority” of his committee to back the bill after several provisions were added to appeal to farmers and rural areas, including stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate ethanol and the inclusion of lucrative agricultural carbon offsets.

“I’m not going to put a lot of pressure on people,” Peterson said of other committee Democrats. “They know their districts.”

Part of the challenge for Democratic leaders is the compressed time frame they’ve given themselves for the final sales job, especially given the complexity of the measure. At the Caucus meeting Tuesday night, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) rose to ask if anyone could explain the cap-and-trade system that is the centerpiece of the bill.

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