Wise is the man who learns from his mistakes. Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) fell into line with fellow Republicans in opposition to Obama’s economic stimulus package despite his stated reservations regarding his party’s position. If his ‘yea’ vote for the House Democrats’ health care reform legislation is an indicator of anything, it’s that his stimulus vote was a mistake. Indeed, Cao has demonstrated a capacity to learn by bucking the GOP’s monolithic negativity.
Despite House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s declaration that no Republican would vote for the Democrat’s plan, most beltway dwellers were well aware of Cao’s fence sitting on the measure. That the Obama Administration was courting him was common knowledge. However, blow back over his stimulus vote was likely the most motivating factor for the Louisiana Republican.
Cao’s Stimulus Filp-Flop
Cao supported the Obama economic proposals as late as Feb. 12. “A lot of the provisions in the bill will be good for the district, because we need almost everything,” Cao said. His potential support for the Stimulus drew harsh criticism from right wing pundits, leading the congressional freshman to change his position.
Bayoubuzz.com posed the question, ‘Can New Orleans Area Republican Cao Survive?’ following his February ‘nay’ vote on the Stimulus:
The offices of The Louisiana Weekly were besieged last Thursday and Friday with complaints over the Congressman…
“His district supported Obama. He should support Obama,” one lady declared.
“Cao said that he was Independent. Is this Independent?” another caller noted citing the new Second District Congressman’s decision to vote in lockstep with his fellow Republicans against the Stimulus.
And the emails and telephone calls continued in that vein through the weekend. In retrospect, the vehement public response is not so surprising. That a predominantly African-American newspaper would be receive a negative reaction from its mostly Black readers when the latest Rasmussen poll put President Barack Obama’s support amongst Black voters 98%-2% hardly shocks.
The public response was justified considering his district — of which only 15 percent of the population is Republican — was among the most adversely effected areas by hurricane Katrina. Turning away money from any source was bound to leave his constituents wondering if Cao had their interests in mind.
Consequences of the Lone Republican ‘Yea’
Little has changed since February. Certainly the demographics of Cao’s district have remained the same, as has its myriad of economic needs. He made it clear, however, that he couldn’t vote in favor of the House Democrat healthcare reform bill without a stronger anti-abortion provision. Much to the dismay of Obama’s progressive base, the majority leadership — already needing to shore up the votes of socially conservative Democrats — allowed the contentious amendment championed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) to come to the floor.
Once the Stupak provision passed, Cao was out of excuses. Despite this, the Republican leadership kept the pressure on until the last minute, but to no avail. Cao was content to absorb the persuasive efforts of his Party until the 218th ‘yea’ vote was cast, ensuring the House bill’s passage. After that, Cao registered his affirmative vote and has since become the man of the moment among purveyors of news media.
No doubt, in the short run Cao will suffer the petty retribution of the GOP. The racist proclivities of some within the conservative right-wing have already presented themselves, as Matthew Yglesias reported in a Nov. 8 blog post. Apparently, conservatives fail to recognize the irony in what Cao’s wise decision has wrought upon the Democrats.
The irony here is that if Cao had anything to do with the House majority leadership allowing Stupak’s anti-abortion language into the bill, then he has done the Republicans a huge favor. Stupak’s contribution has the Democrats at each others’ throats, and should it survive conference, Cao will have participated in the largest infringement of the reproductive rights of women in recent memory; something Republicans have sought since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973.
Does Cao’s Vote Secure His Political Future?
The question remains: will Cao’s vote be enough for him to retain his seat in 2010? Probably not. His election to congress in 2008 was widely considered a fluke; the product of low voter turnout and an electoral opponent under scrutiny for keeping $90,000 in his freezer.
In 2010, Cao will remain a prime target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and at present, it looks as if he won’t be able to count on the GOP for support. Short of switching parties, the former problem would present itself no matter how Cao voted on health care reform.
The latter problem, however, becomes meaningless when you consider that the demographic makeup of his district can make GOP support into an electoral hindrance. In sum, when faced with no good, politically safe option, Cao opted to go with what his district’s residents wanted and, arguably, needed.
Cao said: “I have always said that I would put aside partisan wrangling to do the business of the people. My vote tonight was based on my priority of doing what is best for my constituents. “
Such a statement is often uttered by politicians, but seldom is it acted upon. Though his political future is uncertain, Cao’s decision was wise, indeed.
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