“How dare thou Joe Cao?” asks displeased Republicans around the country in reaction to the New Orleans congressman’s vote for the Democratic national health care plan on Saturday night.
The Republican first-term U.S. Representative from a decidedly Democratic district has gone from being the future of the GOP, according to a then-euphoric House minority leader John Boehner, to quisling for crossing party lines on a number of occasions, most notably by providing the lone GOP vote for the ObamaCare.
That said, I’ll explain Cao’s vote, though not defend it. While I would not have voted that way, I also would’ve never been elected to represent Louisiana’s Second District in Congress.
Most observers felt that the Justice Department had a better chance of getting Jefferson out of office than Cao. But barely enough New Orleans voters (The Gambit excepted) had had enough of the stench of Jefferson’s political success in spite of marked bills found in his freezer. Republicans, independents, white liberals and a smattering of black voters combined to give Republican a modest 1,814 vote margin over the tainted Democratic congressman.
For all practical purposes, Joseph Cao’s name that day was “Anybody But Jefferson”.
The eyes of the national party, still swollen from the beating delivered by Obama and the Democrats the month before, could only make out through the haze a historic win by a Republican in a black-majority district, leading to Boehner’s now infamous ejaculation.
While hardly a seasoned politician, Cao was wise enough to recognize the circumstances of his win.
If Cao were to survive to redistricting in 2011, he could not afford to march lock step in one of the nation’s most hostile congressional districts for a Republican candidate.
Cao the Catholic announced he would not budge on the issue of abortion; Cao the congressman who would like to have a shot in hell at another term would be flexible on other matters under the guise of representing his constituents, who are mostly black and Democrat.
So what is the significance of Cao’s vote for ObamaCare? Well if you’re of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s mindset, you can publicly grasp at the straw of bipartisan support, then again from her perspective last Tuesday was a Democratic success.
Cao’s lone vote would not have made the difference in the passage of the ObamaCare and hardly gives the legislation the distinction of being “bipartisan”. If anything, the opposition to it was far more bipartisan as 39 Democrats joined with 99.5% of House Republicans in voting against it.
What is the upside for Cao? There might not be one short of a few invitations to White House dinners and perhaps arriving back in his home country via Air Force One if the president invites him to tag along on a diplomatic run to Hanoi.
Politically this move that isn’t going to win any more votes he didn’t receive in 2008. The stark reality of the Second Congressional District is that a whopping 46.8% of the electorate in a low-turnout race voted to maintain the embarrassment of having an ineffective crook occupying a seat in Congress during New Orleans’ continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
If Cao’s vote on health care moved just ten of Jefferson’s 31,318 votes then that’s plenty though not nearly enough to survive a turnout spiked by US Senator David Vitter’s presence on the ballot and the reality that the national Democrats are going to make it rain in the Second District in order to take back the seat.
Procedural votes reflecting and policy posturing reflecting the views of his constituents won’t counter the fact he is a Republican, even if not a stalwart.
Democratic State Representative Cedric Richmond, who talked tough against Jefferson when he ran against him in the Democratic primary but lost his voice when “Dollar Bill” was in the runoff with someone else, immediately piped up, issuing a statement condemning Cao for previous votes that hampered the passage of the health care bill. Richmond has already announced his intention to run against Cao in 2010.
Another consequence of Cao’s ObamaCare vote is that the embattled congressman will have trouble raising money via direct mail solicitations from Republican donors outside of his district. In this partisan-charged environment, Ronald Reagan’s “80-20 adage” is an anachronism.
Since taking office, Cao has walked an ideological tightrope, supporting hate-crimes legislation with expanded protection for gays, which is an accurate reflection of a district that includes the French Quarter and the Marigny, while opposing Cap and Trade and the stimulus. But the latter is forgotten by conservatives but not by Democrats who will be sure to bring up those votes at a time of Cao’s least convenience.
The phrase “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” could not better describe Cao’s political situation.
Rather than react with rage, Republicans should happily accept whatever conservative votes Cao casts between now and the end of his two-year term, for they are far more in number than those cast by his predecessor and far more than those that will be cast by the Democrat who succeeds him.