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Mike Fitzpatrick Defends Vote to Ship Jobs Overseas

After promising constituents to vote against outsourcing, the former Congressman broke his word and turned his back on working families in Bucks County (Bristol, PA)  — Mary Dunne remembers the meeting she had with Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick in the summer of 2005. She traveled from Bensalem to Washington to ask that Fitzpatrick vote against a trade deal that would ship American jobs to Central America. The Congressman promised Mary he would vote no.  But something changed in between that meeting and the time Fitzpatrick walked down to the House floor to cast his vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) just a few hours later. As documented in later news reports (see below), Fitzpatrick received a call from Dick Cheney telling him he had to vote yes. That was all it took.
One phone call from Cheney and Congressman Fitzpatrick flipped, breaking his word to his constituents and becoming the tie-breaking vote to outsource American jobs.
Incredibly, former Congressman Fitzpatrick is now trying to defend his vote. This is in spite of the fact that after Fitzpatrick jammed the bill through, a Jones NY factory in Bucks County closed and the hundreds of jobs disappeared. A company spokesperson said the closing of the Bristol plant was part of the company’s plan to transfer operations overseas. Those were jobs that folks in Bucks County, like Sue Spadaccino from Bristol, had depended on to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.
To make matters worse, Fitzpatrick is attempting to use cheap lawyers’ tricks to get around the fact that he was, in fact, the tie-breaking vote on CAFTA. The bill passed by just two votes, 217-215. Had Fitzpatrick voted no, like he promised his constituents, it would have been tied. Fitzpatrick’s vote broke that tie.

Former Congressman Fitzpatrick might hope that Bucks County voters have amnesia, but a pro-outsourcing record like his is too bad for anyone to forget.


Then, just before midnight, Fitzpatrick emerged from the cloakroom followed by Blunt, DeLay and Hastert. The field was set.

Around midnight, Hayes switched his vote, then Fitzpatrick and LaTourette voted yes, after which Blunt signaled his deputy whips to release the remaining nos. Then the majority whip drew a hand across his throat signaling the vote to a close.

CAFTA: Part 3 the night of the vote
By Patrick O’Connor
An eerie calm fell over Capitol Hill on the morning of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) vote.

Police cars blocked all roads leading to the Capitol, and a helicopter hovered over Constitution Avenue in anticipation of a presidential motorcade.

In the Capitol basement, a press gaggle had gathered to glimpse President Bush on his way to HC-5, the basement conference room where he would thank Republican House members for their efforts in the first seven months of the year and make one final conferencewide appeal for members to support his controversial free-trade bill.

As he passed the assembled reporters, photographers and television cameras accompanied by Vice President Cheney, a handful of Cabinet secretaries and most of the Republican House leadership, one reporter yelled, “Mr. President, do you have the votes to pass CAFTA?

Bush smiled, waved to the cameras and kept walking.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and his team had been aggressively selling CAFTA to Republican members for almost two months when it came to the floor that last Wednesday in July. The bill had momentum in its favor, but passage was not a guarantee that hot and humid morning.

The whip team had been whittling down the official list of member concerns since mid-June, after Blunt’s 15-member task force completed its preliminary count of the votes. There was still much to be done, but the entire apparatus of Republican leadership was now behind Blunt and his team.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the iconic former whip whose effectiveness and outspoken manner have made him a forceful and controversial figure on Capitol Hill, volunteered to take on many of the hardest cases during that final stretch.

In addition, Bush unleashed the full force of his Cabinet for the final push. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez all spent much of that final day on the Hill lobbying. By visiting congressional Republicans that morning, Bush also put the entire weight of his office and reputation on the line in support of CAFTA.

Working the phones

The early-morning calm quickly dissolved once Bush reached the Capitol.

During a round of votes earlier in the day, Cantor and Blunt both had private discussions with Virginia Republican Jo Ann Davis, who was expected to vote no but missed the vote. She was away to attend a Boy Scout Jamboree event in Caroline County, Va., that was eventually canceled.

Later that afternoon, as Cabinet secretaries and lobbyists canvassed the halls of Capitol Hill, Blunt assembled his 60 or so deputy whips to remind them to stay in the House chamber throughout the vote in case he needed people to help put pressure on reluctant members or find someone who skipped out of the chamber early.

Around 5 that evening, Cheney, a former House whip who has become one of leadership’s most effective closers, set up shop in his House office just off the chamber. There, he called on members with his legislative liaison Brenda Becker standing nearby. Just after 6, Blunt and his floor director, Amy Steinmann, briefed the vice president on their official whip list heading into the vote.

As Cheney left his office just after 10, John Engler, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers who had been stalking the Capitol that night, thanked the vice president for supporting the bill.

While Cheney worked the phones that night, Cantor was scrambling to secure Rep. Robert Aderholt’s (R-Ala.) vote.

Aderholt was seeking assurances from the White House that CAFTA would not hurt sock makers in his district by eliminating an existing tariff on imported socks. Fort Payne, Ala., is the self-proclaimed Sock Capital of the World.

He asked for a letter from Portman and Gutierrez assuring him, and in turn his constituents, that the administration would negotiate protections for American sock makers as part of the deal. He also got Portman on the phone with Charles Cole, the chief executive of one of his district’s biggest sock producers.

Cantor’s last-minute effort with Aderholt was illustrative of how leadership and the administration earned member support during those critical last days. Lobbyists and administration officials had been holding similar meetings for months, but wavering members waited until those last weeks to commit.

Cajoling votes

To the outside observer, the House floor is filled with members glad-handing and joking while paying minimal attention to the board overhead that lists each of their votes. But amid the social element, the floor is where rank-and-file members push their individual issues or campaign for promotions within the conference while leadership monitors that activity to keep a pulse on the troops.

During each of the votes earlier that week, Blunt and Cantor worked the floor tirelessly, holding a series of one-on-one meetings with uncommitted members on the floor to gauge their level of commitment for or against CAFTA.

In general, whipping tough votes is generally more about cajoling members than outright coercion because a hard case on one vote might be the difference on another. And while lobbyists, staff and administration officials tend to push the policy benefits of a particular bill, members often tell their colleagues that it’s all about the team.

When Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) reached the House floor that night for the CAFTA vote, Cantor immediately found her and said, we need you to hold your vote. He knew she was a no, but they needed her to hold out so that they would have more flexibility once the vote got close.

Cantor sat with her throughout the night as House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and other eager CAFTA supporters paid her occasional visits.

Earlier that day, Bush had called Capito to say, I need you on this.

Afterward, her 24-year-old son, Charles, who had been sitting up in the gallery that night, told her, I could tell you were getting pretty heated.

In the end, Capito voted against the bill, but not without heavily weighing the impact on her state and the importance of her team.

The team is important,â€? Capito said the following day. I’ve been the recipient of a lot of help from the team.

Any other competition

Blunt is a study in understatement, and that night as he walked to the floor he was focused on the task at hand more than any particular emotions surrounding the moment. But he does get excited for the big votes.

It’s like any other competition, Blunt said.

As he walked to the floor, he and DeLay had a list of members who were planning to vote no. Within that list, Blunt knew he and his team needed to persuade some of those members to vote yes.

House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) had already caused the first stir of the night when his office put out a press release just after 6:30 explaining his vote against the trade bill.

Then, on his way to the floor, Blunt learned that Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. (Ga.) was voting against the bill after promising Bush earlier in the day that he would support it.

When the vote finally began, Republicans took an early lead and held it until the Democrats tied things up at 174 votes apiece. The Democrats then went up by as many as nine votes before Republicans tied it up again at 207-207. As the overhead screen tallied member votes, Republicans and Democrats alike scoured the board to see how their colleagues were voting.

The vote then locked at 214-211, where it remained for the next 30 or so minutes. Nine Republicans had not yet voted, while Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) was the lone Democratic holdout. Outside lobbyists were confident at that point that Blunt would find some combination of loyal Republicans to bring the tally to the necessary 217.

Afterward, Blunt said it was a big advantage for him to have the lead at that point because Democrats could not shout regular order and demand Republicans to close the vote.

A curious exchange

On a night full of tense conversations, the most curious was that between DeLay and House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). DeLay and Pombo had a brief, heated conversation at the back of the chamber, after which DeLay marched over to Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).

Young, who was putting the finishing touches on a massive highway bill filled with members pet projects, quickly explained something to DeLay. DeLay walked back to Pombo, told him something and watched in frustration as Pombo stormed out of the chamber.

Pombo returned to vote yes 10 minutes later, but the content of those conversations is still unclear.

Ney and Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) were the only Republican chairmen to vote against the bill. They were joined by four Republican freshmen Reps. Charles Boustany (R-La.), Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) had pledged to vote against it during their campaigns, something Blunt always recommends against, and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) had told leadership that he was voting no because the White House had not done enough to support him during last year’s Republican primary.

Jeff Cohen, Mack’s chief of staff, said, Congressman Mack didn’t think the bill sufficiently protected Florida’s interests.

The three freshmen held their votes until late as a strategic favor to their Republican colleagues, but they all faced enormous pressure during the course of the vote. McHenry, who was standing by himself, finally appeared to relent and vote no after enduring an aggressive appeal from Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.).

Blunt and other leaders had been leaning heavily on Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) and Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), as leaders quickly realized they were the swing members.

Fitzpatrick spent most of the vote surrounded by members of the Pennsylvania delegation in the Republican cloakroom. At one point, he told Bush that he would vote yes on the bill but that he wanted Brian Conklin, the White House liaison working CAFTA, to get National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on the phone to explain the national-security benefits of his vote. Conklin then had to wake Hadley up to go over the vote with Fitzpatrick.

Hayes had voted no earlier in the night, but leaders and business owners in his district persuaded him to switch his vote and support the legislation around midnight.

Portman meanwhile was explaining how a tariff issue related to the bill would not affect furniture makers in LaTourette’s district an explanation that has since come under severe scrutiny by local press.

A midnight crescendo

Then, just before midnight, Fitzpatrick emerged from the cloakroom followed by Blunt, DeLay and Hastert. The field was set.

Around midnight, Hayes switched his vote, then Fitzpatrick and LaTourette voted yes, after which Blunt signaled his deputy whips to release the remaining nos. Then the majority whip drew a hand across his throat signaling the vote to a close.

Republicans erupted with applause.

In the Speaker’s office shortly after the vote, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez thanked Fitzpatrick and promised the tired freshman he would visit his district to explain the benefits of the bill, an agreement arranged through Blunt’s staff.

Gutierrez hugged Hastert and thanked him on behalf of the administration for all his hard work to pass the trade bill.

We did what we had to do to get this job done, Hastert said.

Staff soon appeared with cigars and beers for an impromptu celebration on the Speaker’s Balcony.

While Blunt and his team celebrated their big win looking out over the Mall, inside the dark Capitol fell silent again as a lone janitor swept Statuary Hall just outside the Speaker’s quarters and CAFTA joined the 200-year-old echo of tough votes long forgotten.

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