GOP Twists Arms on Stimulus

Posted February 13, 2009 at 12:11pm

A little before 11 a.m. Friday, Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) became the target of an 11th-hour push by the House GOP whip operation furiously working to persuade moderate Members to oppose the economic stimulus bill.

Sitting on the right center of the House chamber talking quietly with one another, Castle and Upton were first interrupted by Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who sat next to Castle and spoke to both men while gesturing occasionally with his hands.

As the three lawmakers talked, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) kneeled down next to Upton in the aisle and appeared to take over the sales pitch from his deputy.

Eventually the two whips walked away, leaving Castle and Upton to talk amongst themselves — but they were not alone for long.

As Cantor stood near the well of the House talking to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) made his way over to Castle and Upton, taking a seat in between the two.

Cantor then returned to the arm-twisting session, leaning over Upton as he spoke to him.

On Thursday, GOP Members and aides sought to downplay expectations that they would stay unified a second time in opposing the stimulus plan. Republicans acknowledged that a few of their Members — facing pressure from constituents — may feel compelled to vote with the Democrats.

Last month, every Member of the House Republican Conference voted against the original version of the stimulus bill. The mass opposition amounted to the first major victory for the minority and heightened the pressure on their leadership team to stage a repeat performance.

As the intensity increased in the chamber Friday, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) sat virtually alone on the far right side chatting to another potential affirmative vote, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.). Another possible defection, Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), stood nearby casually speaking to other Ohio Republicans — seemingly above the arm-twisting fray.

Back in the center of the floor, Upton appeared to have had enough. Following the departure of the Boehner and Cantor huddle, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) approached him.

After speaking for only a moment, Upton raised both hands and backed away from the Majority Leader before turning around and walking quickly out of the chamber through its left entrance.