Feb. 7, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Blue Dogs Looking for a Lift

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Rep. Heath Shuler was rumored to be in the running for the athletic director position at the University of Tennessee, but he has said he will run for re-election.

Blue Dogs seemed like a dying breed over the past few months, but the group got a boost last week with the surprise appearance of their colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the House floor.

The Arizona Democrat’s unexpected showing in Washington, D.C., after a nearly seven-month absence provided a brief moment of bipartisan celebration amid the heated debt limit debate. For the Blue Dog Coalition, of which Giffords is a member, it was also an extraordinary boost at a time when the once-influential group is looking to regain its relevance.

“I’m a grown man, and it takes a lot to make me cry, and it brought tears to my eyes, as it did to a lot of my colleagues. That was a moment I’ll never forget,” said Rep. Mike Ross, a Blue Dog Coalition co-chairman.

The Arkansas Democrat added, “To see her cast her vote, it was a moment the Blue Dogs waited a very long time for.”

Ross announced last month that he would not seek another term, as he eyes a 2014 gubernatorial run. Add to that the retirement announcement of Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), the announcement by Rep. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) that he is running for Senate, the departure of former Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) earlier this year and brief speculation that Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) was mulling an exit, and Members and aides began to openly wonder what the future of the coalition would be.

“It’s not been easy for them this year,” a former chief of staff to a Blue Dog member said. “Caucuses are most relevant when they are among the party that’s in control and there are enough of them. The Blue Dogs don’t have either of those things.”

The group assumed Speaker John Boehner would need its help to pass an increase in the debt limit; the Ohio Republican met with Boren during the run-up to the House vote on Boehner’s initial debt plan that the chamber passed July 29. But Boehner was able to scrape together enough Republican votes to pass his plan, and the Blue Dogs joined the entire Democratic Caucus, as well as several Republicans, in voting against it.

Ross said Boehner’s struggle to rally his Conference behind his debt limit plan, and the loss of 66 Republicans on the compromise that was ultimately approved by the chamber this past Monday, means Blue Dogs will be even more relevant on spending matters later this year.

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