Boehner: GOP Has Pelosi on the Run

Posted August 8, 2008 at 4:28pm

Republican leaders are vowing to continue through the August recess their daily protests on the House floor to demand votes on oil drilling, believing that they have struck a chord with a public fed up with high gas prices and Congressional gridlock and have Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the run.

“We’re going to continue to be here day after day until the Speaker calls us back,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Friday. “That’s what our constituents are demanding.”

Boehner, who was mocked by Democrats for attending a golf fundraiser in the middle of the week, is predicting that Pelosi will ultimately get rolled, and he agreed with fellow Republicans who contended that their protests were already helping to lower oil prices.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to [Wall Street] that we’re going to win this fight, the only question is when,” Boehner said.

What started as an impromptu protest of Democratic strong-arm tactics shutting down the House floor has turned into PR gold for Republicans, who are canceling ribbon-cuttings, fundraisers and other events in their districts to take part in the protests despite an absence of television cameras or microphones, dim lighting and an audience of tourists.

“The American people are with us,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), one of the organizers of the protest that has attracted 87 Members so far. “They are with House Republicans who want to see the Congress come back to work and give the bipartisan majority of this House … a simple vote on the floor.”

Republicans say the protests have galvanized what has been a dispirited conservative base weighed down by GOP corruption scandals, Bush fatigue and family feuds over earmarks, global warming and immigration.

“America is America because we solve our problems. We don’t dodge them,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said. “The longer Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] dodge it, the stronger we’re going to be, and the better we’re going to do in the elections in November.”

Republicans are calling the protests the birth of a second Republican revolution, even bringing in former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) — father of the first revolution — for a pep talk.

Members were energized by crowds of tourists liberated by the lack of rules in the House chamber, with Boy Scouts and sweaty masses in shorts invited onto the chamber floor. “They’re stomping and clapping and cheering. They want to solve the problem,” Barton said. “These aren’t all Republicans. They’re people from all around the country.”

What initially started out as a protest led by the most conservative Members has increasingly been embraced by some of its most vulnerable incumbents, including seven of the top 20 most endangered identified by the National Republican Congressional Committee: Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Marilyn Musgrave (Colo.), Bill Sali (Idaho), Christopher Shays (Conn.) and Tim Walberg (Mich.).

The protest has largely been blown off by the party’s standard-bearers, President Bush and the presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). McCain has used House GOP talking points on calling for Congress to come back to pass an offshore drilling plan but has not appeared with House Republicans in the Capitol. Bush left town for the Olympics in Beijing, ignoring GOP calls that he use his power to force Congress into an emergency session, prompting Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) to label him “Beijing George” in a harsh blog post.

Boehner, however, sought to keep the focus on Pelosi.

“The president doesn’t have a vote in terms of what happens on the floor, so let’s not point fingers somewhere else,” he said. “Nancy Pelosi can call us back, and we can have a vote on the floor.”

Republicans say they will be able to muster at least a small contingent to mount the daily takeovers of the House floor, but the numbers will likely drop, and they could cut back their protesting hours.

Democratic aides say the political calculus of offshore oil drilling is murkier than support in polls suggests, and they dismiss the protests as silly grandstanding. They say voters blame oil companies far more than Democrats in Congress for gas prices, and back Democrats over Republicans on the issue.

Democrats are trying to tie the GOP protests to millions in political contributions Republicans have received from oil interests. They note that pro-drilling Rep. David Davis (Tenn.) lost his Republican primary last week to an opponent who portrayed him as a sellout to Big Oil. And they say House Republicans lack the credibility to address the energy issue given that they were in power for a dozen years and have repeatedly voted against measures mandating energy efficiency and the use of alternative energy while protecting tax breaks for oil companies.

Pelosi herself, pilloried by the GOP throughout the week for jetting around the country on a book tour, says she has no intention of giving oil companies more access to protected areas offshore.

And Democrats gave out a “Republican Leadership Energy Scorecard” showing energy bills Republicans have opposed, calling it the “Elephant Hills Country Club.”

“Republicans Voting With Big Oil … A Tradition Unlike Any Other,” the card reads, along with “Boehner’s PGA” for “Petroleum Gas Association” and a picture of an oil rig in the middle of a golf course lake.

But Democratic aides have acknowledged they must come up with a legislative strategy for dealing with the issue next month, with the offshore drilling ban set to expire Sept. 30.

Even if Pelosi remains determined to extend the ban as is, she might not have the votes as vulnerable rank-and-file Democrats become increasingly nervous about the issue. Even if she could muster the votes to continue the ban, she could run into a Senate filibuster or a presidential veto.

The biggest wild card is Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who has pivoted on the offshore drilling issue and has said he could support more drilling if it was tied to other issues, such as increasing vehicle mileage standards.

A possible deal could tie some limited expansion of offshore drilling to other Democratic proposals — such as a renewable electricity mandate and shifting tax breaks from oil companies to renewable power. Such a combo platter was even proposed by Paris Hilton in a mock TV ad last week.

But Obama’s shift could force Pelosi’s hand.

“A lot of us ended that day to the left of Barack Obama on energy,” one House Democratic aide said.

Some Democrats from competitive suburban districts, where constituents rely heavily on their cars, have been feeling the heat on gas prices since returning home. The aide noted: “A lot of Members and chiefs of staff are starting to ask, ‘What’s the plan?’”

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.