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An hour after the interview, as the House considered the repeal measure, Gowdy sat in the House chamber next to Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
Meanwhile, standing outside the chamber in the Speaker’s Lobby, Clay was ironically congratulating Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). “We know the bill isn’t going anywhere once it gets to the Senate,” he said.
Clay, however, noted that for all the pointlessness of the vote, it is useful for his Member-vs.-Member primary campaign against Rep. Russ Carnahan in their St. Louis-based district.
“Oh, for sure, that’s why I got floor time,” he said, laughing.
Indeed, earlier in the day Clay had taken to the floor and, borrowing from the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey, called the health care law one of the “great moral issues of our time.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive reaction from different constituent groups about my floor speech,” he said, noting that they sent the text out in an email blast. “‘Thanks a lot,’” is what they were saying. ‘Thank you for standing up for the [law] and people who are uninsured in this country.’”
But Clay knows it’s not so easy for some of his colleagues. As a House aide emerged from the chamber to read the vote tally, Clay perked up. Five Democrats had voted against the bill. “That sounds about right,” he said.
A few feet across the chamber’s aisle that divides where Republicans and Democrats sit, two of those Democrats — Reps. Larry Kissell (N.C.) and Mike Ross (Ark.) — huddled together with some of their colleagues.
The row was a who’s who of Democrats for whom the vote was brutal, such as Reps. Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Ben Chandler (Ky.). Were it not for their retirements, Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Dan Boren (Okla.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.), there as well, would also have had a tough vote.
Peterson had a fatalistic countenance, leaning back in his seat. Kissell’s facial expression was glum. From a distance, the mood appeared grim.
Walking off the House floor, Peterson, who voted with Democrats on the measure, expressed anger about the vote. “This vote is meaningless,” he said. “We’ve got real work to do around here, not do nonsense.”
Wielding the Speaker’s gavel was Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.). As colleagues socialized on the House floor, Emerson sat relatively isolated, sometimes hammering away on her BlackBerry.
She uses that time, she said, to learn about her colleagues, watching their interactions, noting that President Lyndon Johnson, widely regarded as a legislative master during his time in Congress, used to keenly observe his colleagues.
Unlike Gowdy, who has an extremely conservative district, Emerson’s district has a substantial number of Medicaid patients, a reason for her to carefully gauge their opinions on health care.