Waters warns House Dems against intimidation as Obama chief of staff arrives

The fight over the “cromnibus” began as an internecine battle within the Republican Party — which is nothing new for the GOP on Capitol Hill when it comes to budgets. Over the past few hours, though, it’s turned into a civil war among Democrats, especially between progressives in Congress and the White House. Barack Obama spent the afternoon on the phone attempting to whip enough House Democrats to vote for the bill, while Nancy Pelosi declared herself opposed to the bill and whipped her caucus to stand firm. As noted in an update in the earlier post, Obama sent his chief of staff Denis McDonough to push Democrats to get back on board:

Fox News is told that President Obama and Vice President Biden were calling House Democrats appealing for their support. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also arrived on the Hill late Thursday to meet with the Democratic caucus. Meanwhile, House GOP leaders were trying to sway conservative members who, for different reasons, were opposed to the package.

Unclear is whether the push can produce a bipartisan majority to approve the package.

Earlier in the day, the bill narrowly cleared an important procedural hurdle, on a 214-212 test vote. But the tight vote, which almost failed, exposed serious problems — all Democrats voted against it, while 16 Republicans defected.

GOP leaders then delayed a final vote, signaling they did not yet have enough support lined up to pass the legislation. A spending bill of some kind is needed to avert a government shutdown after the midnight deadline. A senior House GOP source told Fox News it is “very close.”

Pelosi’s public opposition has forced Obama to own the cromnibus in a manner not anticipated by the White House. They apparently surprised Pelosi with a grudging endorsement of the bill this afternoon, which Pelosi suggested was a form of “blackmail.” Obama and his team responded with a full-court press that has turned this into a test of Obama’s remaining political strength in Washington. If he can’t deliver a handful of Democrats on this deal, Obama will look impotent, and that will not bode well for the White House in its extended lame-duck status.

Even the President’s usual allies are turning on him. Maxine Waters told her colleagues not to allow themselves to get “intimidated” into changing their votes shortly before McDonough arrived. Waters explicitly accused Obama of conducting that intimidation:

Waters gathered more than 20 fellow Democrats to her office Thursday afternoon to push back against the president’s efforts after learning of Obama’s lobbying effort.

And she’s not apologizing for it.

“We don’t like lobbying that is being done by the president or anybody else that would allow us to support a bill that … would give a big gift to Wall Street and the bankers who caused this country to almost go into a depression,” she said. “So I’m opposed to it and we’re going to fight it.”

Waters said the lawmakers who met in her office, including Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), divvied up a list of members and took to the phones to urge Democrats to hold their ground in opposition to the package.

“We’re fighting anybody who is lobbying to tell people to vote for this bill,” Waters said. “If the president is lobbying, we do not like it, and we’re saying to our members, ‘Don’t be intimidated by anybody.'”

Meanwhile, Jim Moran took a few swipes at Elizabeth Warren over her opposition to the bill and the rules change on derivatives. The outgoing Virginia Representative told Washington Post reporter Ed O’Keefe, “I have to assume [she’s] running for President,” and that Warren knows that “their constituents have no clue about … [the] derivatives issue.”

That leaves the field open for a simple, 90-day CR. Boehner has a short-term CR ready to go, but O’Keefe reports that he also has the 90-day CR ready for a vote at the same time. If Obama can’t get any Democrats to go for the cromibus, Boehner may pass both so that the Senate can quickly approve the 2-3 day extension, and then spend that time passing the 90-day extension. That, as O’Keefe explained, would all but eliminate Democratic leverage on the rest of FY2015.

At some level, Democrats know this too. Are they willing to toss that away over a Dodd-Frank battle that not even the White House wants to wage? Will they force a shutdown rather than go with a bill that Obama not only agreed to sign, but is now actively pushing? Will they humiliate an already-humiliated President of their own party just to score a few points with progressive extremists? And will the media actually report it if they do?

We’ll see soon enough. Right now, Republicans appear to be in the catbird seat. As O’Keefe suggests, pass the popcorn, because it’s likely to be a long night.