Obama Keeping Score

“Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother”

From Politico 12/18/09

Can’t Scare Rep. DeFazio
Rep. Peter DeFazio’s phone rang. On the other end was Rahm Emanuel.

The White House chief of staff last month expressed frustration with DeFazio’s resignation calls for President Barack Obama’s top two economic aides — Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House chief economist Larry Summers — and appealed for cooperation, according to DeFazio.

But Emanuel, known for his blunt manner and ability to bend members of his party to his will, did not raise his voice with the Oregon Democrat.

“Rahm does not yell at me,” DeFazio said, “because he knows that I yell back.”

Others are learning that DeFazio, who has served in the House since 1987 and describes himself as a “progressive populist,” is not easily intimidated. He has emerged in recent months as one of the most vocal liberal critics of the Obama administration, blasting the president’s team for not getting tough enough with Wall Street. He’s also taken on his own party for failing to move left-leaning legislation through the Congress.

Personal calls from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former Vice President Al Gore couldn’t persuade him to vote for the Speaker’s climate change bill. He also opposed the $787 billion stimulus, citing concerns that only 7 percent was devoted to infrastructure spending.

DeFazio was one of only two Democrats to vote against those measures and the $700 billion bank bailout. (The other was Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) a Blue Dog conservative.)

Yet he’s also a pro-gun Democrat who has a B rating from the National Rifle Association.

“I would have less of a voice and I would have less respect if I voted for things I didn’t believe in because of pressure from the leadership,” DeFazio told The Hill in an interview.

Obama himself has taken notice.

“Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother,” Obama told DeFazio during a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, according to members afterward.

But poking a stick at those in power is what DeFazio does.

He gives partial credit for his special brand of liberalism to having worked at a country club as a teenager. Each summer, his father ran a camp for troubled inner-city kids on Cape Cod, where they caddied for golfers at a country club. DeFazio would work alongside the kids.

“They were servants for the rich, as was I,” he said. “I shagged golf balls for rich people. I carried golf clubs for rich people, and I learned very early on, when I was pretty young, that this was a group of people that had nothing special to offer to me or to society.”

His populism has played well back home. DeFazio won his 2008 election with 82 percent of the vote, even though his district isn’t overwhelmingly Democratic. Obama won it by 11 percentage points, but President George W. Bush won nearly as many votes as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

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