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Talks Whipsawing Rank and File

Tom Williams/Roll Call
House Democrats were buoyed when it appeared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was at the table last week in debt limit talks.

House Democrats are suffering massive mood swings when it comes to the debt limit talks.

The Caucus has gone back and forth emotionally, from being jubilant about President Barack Obama's handling of the talks to fearful that he might give away too much in bipartisan talks with GOP leaders.

The seesaw of emotions was on full display Monday, as the rank and file tried to make sense of the dramatic negotiations that took place during the weekend.

"I think there is leftover mistrust from the [continuing resolution] debate and other things that has been heightened by press reports and other reports of just how much the president is willing to put on the table," Rep. Gerry Connolly said.

The Virginia Democrat said the Caucus has found optimism in recent days as Obama has called for compromise with Congressional Republicans and fought to uphold entitlement programs that are central to Democrats' 2012 message. But, as Connolly pointed out, it hasn't been easy for Democrats to stay upbeat, and they've been downright distraught at times.

"Sometimes the Caucus blows off steam," he said with a shrug.

As recently as last Thursday morning, many House Democrats were praising Obama and were pleased that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seemed to be part of the negotiations.

"Through this struggle, [Obama] has held the line, and that's been very reassuring to us," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

A few hours later, the rank and file were sinking into deep depression as word leaked out that Obama was negotiating with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) without Democrats at the table on a deal that might cut deeply into their priorities.

"I don't know much, but I'm not happy," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said. "What bothers me is they seem to be trying to get us to support an agreement that's obnoxious."

But the Obama-Boehner talks disintegrated Friday evening. Nadler complained the Caucus had not been briefed and compared the talks to last December's negotiations between White House officials and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Those talks led to a deal to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which led to a splintered vote on the House floor.

Now, with both parties taking their own approaches to the debt limit, Connolly said his House colleagues are again rallying behind the president, albeit with an air of caution.

"The Democratic Caucus [wants] the president to succeed and understands that we need him to succeed next year if we're going to succeed next year," Connolly said.

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