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Published: Friday, 8/15/2008

Michigan Republican spends recess on House floor drilling for vote

LIVONIA, Mich. - U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter lives in this leafy, nearly all-white Detroit suburb. Congress is in recess and he, like every other member of the House, is running for re-election.

But he mostly isn't here. Instead, he's back in the Capitol, in a House chamber in which the lights and microphones have been turned off, with a few dozen of his Republican colleagues.

What do they want? Simple. "We want Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi to get off her book tour and come back and let Congress have an up-or-down vote on our energy proposals," said the 43-year-old Mr. McCotter, who is heavily favored to win a fourth term this fall.

Specifically, that means offshore drilling.

"This nation needs to produce all the energy we can," argues Mr. McCotter, who is chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Yes, he knows that oil is not the fuel of the future. "But while we need it, we should be as little dependent on foreign supplies as possible."

Though C-Span is nowhere in sight, and the media aren't paying much attention, many of the House Republicans seem to be having a good old time. They make old-style stump speeches to supporters in the gallery, and get themselves pumped up.

"The lack of lights doesn't bother me. I've played in garage bands under worse conditions," said Mr. McCotter, himself a pretty mean rock 'n' roll guitar player. His bipartisan congressional band, the Second Amendments, has performed for the troops in Iraq.

"Different members are coming back to Washington for a day a week to do this," Mr. McCotter said. Some are using their "speak-in" to make commercials, including Nancy Boyda, a freshman from Kansas, one of whose TV spots says:

"No to offshore drilling? Yes to a vacation for Congress?"

"All we want is a straight-up-or-down vote on offshore drilling," said Mr. McCotter. "We know it would pass.

"This isn't even a partisan thing. It would actually help the Democrats, because a lot of conservative and moderate Democrats in swing districts would help themselves by supporting it."

Initially, Speaker Pelosi was not amused. The San Francisco Democrat was in Michigan last week to tout her new book, Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters.

Her response, in an open letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) was a huffy "while a very small band of your colleagues remain on the House floor to discuss gas prices, their constituents deserve to know why their representatives have failed to support serious, responsible proposals."

The protests, however, didn't go away. Then, in an interview on CNN's Larry King Live on Monday, Ms. Pelosi indicated she had changed her mind, "They have this thing that says drill offshore in the protected areas. We can do that. We can have a vote on that."

She added, however, that such a vote would have to be part of a larger package that included other policies.

"But it has to be part of something that says we want to bring immediate relief to the public and is not just a hoax."

For now, however, McCotter's Marauders aren't giving up. Wednesday, he guesstimated that eventually as many as 100 of the 199 GOP House members may take part.

Incidentally, he reserves his harshest criticism not for Speaker Pelosi, but the leader of his own party: President Bush.

"He should have called Congress back into session and demanded they pass the energy bill. Instead, he went to the Communist Olympics," he said contemptuously.

Earlier, he put out a statement suggesting that "Our compassionate conservative in chief" should bring Congress back "some made in Communist China souvenir T-shirts."

A student of history, Mr. McCotter recalled that when President Harry Truman was a Democratic underdog fighting for re-election 60 years ago, he called back a GOP-led Congress and demanded they pass his programs. When they didn't, he ran against "the do-nothing 80th Congress," and won a tremendous upset victory.

The congressman plainly thinks that Republicans could stand that ploy on its head by trying the same tactic and running against "the do-nothing 110th Congress."

He is trying to give Republicans the chance to do somewhat of the same thing.

But the media haven't paid much attention.

It is one thing when a president does something. But a small band of minority congressmen doesn't command as much attention, especially when the media at the same time have had the John Edwards scandal, an economic crisis, war between Russia and Georgia, and the Beijing Olympics.

Mr. McCotter wonders why President Bush won't try the same tactic, summon Congress back and give his troops some traction. One has to ask whether Sen. John McCain, the apparent GOP nominee, wonders that as well.



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