Congressman Donald Payne (D., N.J.) has voted against war funding bills for years. Last summer he was one of 32 heroes to vote No under intense pressure from the White House to vote Yes. When I asked him a couple of years ago to sign onto impeaching Bush he immediately said "Sure!" and he did it.
Today I asked him if he would commit to voting No on the next $33 billion for war. I asked him privately, just after he'd given a long speech to a Progressive Democrats of America conference in New Jersey, a speech about how much he opposes the wars.
Payne told me that he didn't want to commit to voting No on the next "emergency war supplemental" because Obama is president, echoing Jan Schakowsky's comments last June when she made a similar reversal.
"And is the only difference that a different person is president?" I asked. "Yes," he replied.
When I had prefaced my question with praising him for standing strong last June, I had referenced the major promises and threats that other congressmembers had reported receiving from the White House. Payne said he had experienced the same. Yet somehow he had resisted, but is unsure about resisting further.
I thanked Pallone for voting No on war supplementals in 2004 and 2005 and expressed disappointment that he had voted Yes last June. He refused to commit to voting No, with the excuse that something good might be attached to the war money. Yet he had voted No in the past, despite the fact that good hard-to-oppose measures were always applied as lipstick on these bills.
Was Pallone's real thinking that he wanted to obey the president? I can't say for sure, but I can say that he took a lot of questions from PDA members about his positions, and he tended to answer by explaining what Obama's positions are. And I can say that Pallone raised lots of rightwing reasons for not being stronger on issues like healthcare, and other members of the panel he was part of decisively refuted each point but had no impact on the congressman's position whatsoever.
Joining Pallone on the panel were Carpenter and PDA board member Steve Cobble, Co-Chair of PDA's Healthcare Not Warfare campaign Donna Smith, and the president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council Ray Stever. They laid out the case and the strategy for shifting our resources from wars to human needs, especially single-payer healthcare.
The conference rooms were packed, and everyone involved was eager to get to work, including a lot of people new to PDA's organizing. Joanne O'Neil and the other leaders of New Jersey PDA were pleased with the conference, but far from satisfied with the positions of the two congress members who attended.
To their credit, however, everyone was focused on lobbying, challenging, and pressuring until their representatives agree to represent the people of New Jersey rather than taking their orders from a president who has three more years in office even if his followers get themselves voted out this November.