Rep. David Scott was in his usual spot, a comfy chair by the fireplace in the lobby next to the floor of the U.S. House on a recent Friday night.
All of a sudden he was surrounded by angry fellow Democrats, demanding to know why he would vote for a three-week extension of homeland security funding. The Democrats had decided to maximize their leverage by banding together to oppose Republican leaders and watch tea party conservatives sink the plan.
“The strength of the wolf is in the pack. You are voting with these damn Republicans! What is wrong with you?” Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Fla., yelled at Scott, in a scene captured by National Journal.
Scott said it was about keeping a promise to Transportation Security Administration personnel who live in his district. The result still worked out for Democrats — a full-year funding bill passed last week with no conditions on immigration — but it was the loudest example of Scott’s work this year breaking with Democratic leaders, to the occasional frustration of his party.
In January he voted for the Keystone XL pipeline, tweaking environmental groups. Last week he attended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress — despite a boycott by dozens of Democrats — and Scott criticized President Barack Obama’s foreign policy approach.
Scott is the only member who is a fiscally conservative Blue Dog, a pro-business New Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. His departures from the party line are even more noticeable in the shrunken, more liberal House Democratic caucus — which has slim chances of regaining the majority before the next redistricting in 2022.
“If we want to be in the majority, we have to reflect the majority of Americans,” Scott said.
“They can’t write off the South,” he added, referring to his party’s leaders. “They’ve got to appeal to more white people, white middle-class people. …
“We have to appeal to people who are interested in lifting themselves up and being able to address ourselves to those middle-class needs, bringing jobs back.”
Keystone has been derided by environmentalists as creating just a handful of permanent jobs while developing some of the dirtiest oil reserves on Earth. Scott says Democrats have put themselves in a political pinch on the wrong side of a jobs bill that’s going to move anyway in the Republican Congress.
Scott met with House Speaker John Boehner in the hopes of attaching language to the Keystone bill to encourage the companies building the pipeline to hire more young black men through existing apprenticeship programs — not a requirement, not funded by the government. Scott believes the language could help lure more Democrats on board and perhaps change the president’s mind about a veto. So far, he has not convinced the right people that it needs to happen.
It’s a quixotic move, and one that he brings up repeatedly even in unrelated conversations. Now in his seventh term representing a broad swath of metro Atlanta, Scott has been re-elected with little opposition over the years and feels free to speak his mind, often at blustery length.
He’s careful not to go too hard on Obama, whose election Scott called “an achievement of soaring magnitude.”
But Scott, who drafted a report on Iran’s nuclear capabilities in 2012 for the NATO parliamentary assembly, believes the president’s overseas approach has been too weak.
“The president’s foreign policy is … the way he wants the world to be, the way he sees it, when in these dark and dangerous times our foreign policy must be done in the way the world is,” Scott said. “There’s good and there’s evil, and there’s evil out there at work, man, and you’ve got to stand up with strength and resolve. …
“I’m working to push him over the finish line as a great president,” Scott said. “I do not want a mistake to be made on Iran. Everything hammers on this.”
Plan B available
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli got in a good laugh line Wednesday at the Supreme Court during oral arguments on a challenge to Obamacare that could eradicate health insurance subsidies in all states that do not have their own exchanges — including Georgia.
Justice Antonin Scalia asked whether Congress is “just going to sit there” if the court rules against the government, unleashing chaos in health insurance markets.
“This Congress, your honor?” Verrilli replied, to chuckles throughout the room.
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, at least has a plan ready. He introduced a bill last week that would allow states to create their own exchange alternatives.
Price is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and an orthopedic surgeon who has been deeply involved in health policy for years. Still, his bill had no official co-sponsors at week’s end. Price has had an Obamacare replacement bill ready to go for years, but the House leadership has not settled on any one alternative.
Vote of the week
The U.S. House voted, 257-167, to extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security through September without attaching conditions on immigration policy.
Yes: U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany; Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia; John Lewis, D-Atlanta; David Scott, D-Atlanta.
No: U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, R-Evans; Buddy Carter, R-Pooler; Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Tom Graves, R-Ranger; Jody Hice, R-Monroe; Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville; Tom Price, R-Roswell; Austin Scott, R-Tifton; Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County; Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville.