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The House minority whip doesn’t set the congressional agenda. He doesn’t get to offer carrots such as earmarks and he doesn’t wield back-room bludgeons to keep members in lock step.
Instead, Steny H. Hoyer uses a different tool: the old-fashioned art of persuasion.
“I’m called the whip, but I’m the convincer,” the Maryland Democrat told CQ Roll Call over the course of three sit-down interviews. “I’m the minority convincer.”
As Congress veers toward a government shutdown and a debt ceiling showdown, Hoyer could play a pivotal role in convincing his colleagues to keep the lights on — or to turn them off.
Hoyer has been critical of any continuing resolution that maintains the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. If, as expected, the CR comes back to the House from the Senate scrubbed of Obamacare-defunding language, Republican support will surely drop and Democratic votes could matter.
And if Hoyer is not on board, other House Democrats might not be either.
“Our whip has been very, very forceful and I think he speaks for our caucus almost across the board when he says we just cannot have that number,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters last week.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., agreed. “Even if he doesn’t ask anybody,” he said, Hoyer’s stance “is gonna attract people.”
Likewise, Hoyer’s powers of persuasion will almost certainly be needed to secure Democratic votes for a debt ceiling hike once a deal is reached.
In 2013 alone, Hoyer’s whip operation has secured near-unanimity on numerous measures and total Democratic unity on six major pieces of legislation: the GOP budget resolution, the GOP debt prioritization bill, the bill to shut down the National Labor Relations Board, the Violence Against Women Act and the two-part farm bill.
The 40-year legislator attributes that record in part to what he calls “the psychology of consensus” — a concept he introduced more than a decade ago during his first stint as minority whip.
“I wanted people to get up in the morning and think, ‘I want to be with the team,’” he said.
“Threats don’t work,” he added — and nearly a dozen Democrats, during interviews with CQ Roll Call, agreed that’s not Hoyer’s style.
“There’s no badgering,” said freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas.
“There’s no hammer,” said Rep. José E. Serrano of New York. “He’s never asked me to vote for something he knows I don’t believe in.”
And while Hoyer has long been a voice in leadership for the party’s moderates, particularly on fiscal issues, he’s cultivated relationships across the caucus.