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Democrats Searching for Unity

Tom Williams/Roll Call

Pelosi disputed the notion that her strategy was to prevent Members from offering amendments altogether. “We always reserve the right to offer an amendment if we can have the privilege to offer one,” she said.

Asked whether it was a better strategy to vote against GOP proposals rather than try to change them, Pelosi said, “It depends.”

But Rep. Tim Walz, a moderate, said “some people were irritated” that their Democratic colleagues wanted to offer amendments to the continuing resolution that were outside the bounds of the messaging points that leaders wanted to promote.

“It’s been discussed in Caucus that it dilutes the message, but there’s been no concerted effort to stop them,” the Minnesota Democrat said.

Another moderate Democrat, Rep. Jason Altmire, has several times defected to vote against his party’s motions to recommit, another procedural tool that leaders are trying to use to put Republicans on defense. The Pennsylvania lawmaker said leaders had been “leaning pretty hard on people” to stick together on votes.

“They, I think, have realized that I’m always going to vote the way I think I should vote for my district,” he said.

Still other Members, such as Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), said leaders haven’t instructed them to limit the number of amendments that they offer.

“I have not heard that advice, and they didn’t try and deter me from my amendments last week, or the week before last on the CR,” DeFazio said.

The Oregon Democrat said he plans on continuing to offer amendments.

“When they get around to trying to eliminate the personal mandate, I want to offer an amendment. ... I think there are better ways to do that stuff,” he said. “Maybe that won’t fit their messaging, but if I think there is a better way for the country and the people I represent, I would do that.”

Peterson has gone a step further than just trying to offer amendments to Republican legislation by co-sponsoring energy legislation with two Republicans that would freeze the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to rein in industrial power plants and petroleum refiners.

“They know I’m going to do what I’m going to do,” he said, referring to Democratic leaders.

Rep. Robert Andrews, a Pelosi ally and member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, described the leadership effort to coordinate on amendments as more of a suggestion than an airtight policy.

“In some instances we’re better served by limiting those amendments and making them more coherent, but I wouldn’t want to take away the right of any Member to speak his or her mind,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “We prefer coherence, but we don’t discourage creativity.”

Another top Democrat, Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen, said leaders conveyed to Members prior to floor debate on the continuing resolution — which GOP leaders brought to the floor under an open process that prompted the introduction of hundreds of amendments — that “it makes sense to have a focused amendment strategy rather than a scattershot approach.”

Going forward, the Maryland Democrat said, leaders would continue to try to zero in on the most effective amendments.

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