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Tuesday, January 01, 2019


Learning the ropes

by Tom Sullivan

A new Congress begins Thursday, so buckle up. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has not finished his Russia investigations and Nancy Pelosi has not yet begun to get under Donald Trump's skin.

Given nervous "preemptive branding," let's call it, on behalf of possible presidential candidates a year ahead of the 2020 primaries, recognize what voting records we cite to reveal something about politicians reveal about ourselves. Voting records are facts, yes, but they are not stories. At least, not complete ones. (The next few paragraphs I reconstituted from a recent tweet thread.)

Tolerance, please. Think Progress reports, “Of the 59 newly-elected Democrats who will be joining Congress for the first time next month, only 18 have previous experience holding some kind of elected office.” Count on it: Even progressive first-time electeds will make mistakes.

"I screwed up," a freshman state senator told me after a vote during her first months ever in elected office. It was one of those switcheroo bills. They read as if they do one thing and actually do another. It was a rookie lawmaker's mistake. She learned from it.

Some friends had little tolerance for her learning curve. On high alert for return of the ancien régime (perhaps with reason), they spoke of throwing this solidly progressive, generous to a fault, Moral Monday arrestee under the bus. Who could they get to primary her?

Neither they nor I could tell you today what that early bill was about.

With dozens of 1st-time elected Democrats taking seats in Congress Jan. 3, it might be wise to take our fingers off our hair-triggers. Our freshman allies are going to screw up along the way. Expect it. Making mistakes as they learn the ropes does not make them adversaries.

Okay, okay, we are not talking about a Blue Dog here. But here is related experience involving one from 2010.

Scrutiny Hooligans (R.I.P.) readers here in the Cesspool of Sin had had enough of Rep. Heath Shuler, our truculent, local Blue Dog. They listed votes Shuler had made against his party's majority that they had never forgotten and would never forgive. They certainly would never again vote for him. Not all the votes were familiar, but something about the complaints felt ... off. What had happened to the bills ScruHoo readers were so upset about?

Below is a list of Shuler's votes against party assembled from the comment thread. I reformatted and edited this table from my January 2016 Hullabaloo post on this. Except where noted, "Outcome" refers to final disposition in the House. At the time, OpenCongress.org (now offline) reported Shuler had been voting 85% with the caucus. But by their own accounting, these are the votes that really pissed off readers.

“Key votes” are in the eye of the beholder. Your mileage may vary.

Key House Votes Against Party

Bill No.

Title / Year


HR3 / S5

Stem Cell Research Act of 2007

Passed anyway


Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), 2007 

Passed anyway

H Res 1031

Establishment of the Office of Congressional Ethics, 2008

Passed anyway


HR1 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“Stimulus Bill")

Passed anyway


Hate Crimes Expansion, 2009

Passed anyway


Food Safety Regulation Amendments, 2009

Passed anyway


H.AMDT.509 to HR 3962, 2009 (Stupak Amendment)

64 Democrats joined GOP in adding Stupak amendment to Affordable Health Care bill 240-194. It was not in the final version Barack Obama signed.


Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 2010

Passed anyway


Unemployment Benefits Extension, 2010. Voted No on final report.

Passed anyway


Health Care Reconciliation Act, 2010

Passed anyway


Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act, 2010

Passed anyway


What mattered to readers was their congressman had not voted for passage, even though in the end the bills they wanted passed passed. That is, they ultimately got what they wanted and were still mad about getting it, sometimes years after the fact. What it revealed was that even in victory some voters will react like jilted lovers who will neither forgive nor forget a personal betrayal. Democrats want to fall in love. It was not enough to advance their larger agenda. They wanted a soulmate. The exercise was highly instructive.

But this is politics. Those wanting a soulmate should try Match dot com.

The point is, in 2019 with so many new, first-time legislators in Congress — progressive and less so — they are going to screw up. Some of their votes, even only procedural ones, will either piss you off or break your heart. What matters more is advancing the ball and chalking up wins, not how faithful we feel our representatives are to our every expectation. Even the best of them are going to disappoint. Try not to file for divorce the first time it happens. You would want the same.

If you value what we write here, I hope you'll consider supporting the blog with a couple of bucks. If you've already donated, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you haven't and would like to, the paypal buttons are on the sidebar and below as is the snail mail address.

Buckle up everybody. It's going to be a very bumpy New Year ...

cheers --- digby

Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405