CORRECTION: From my vantage point in the press gallery, it looked as if Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was leaning on Cao to oppose the bill. But according to a local Alaska paper, Young, who himself has often bucked the GOP party line, was in fact urging him to do what he needed to do for his district, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. Young was by Cao's side the entire time and as the critical moment approached, Young sat to Cao's left, with an arm draped on his leg; Cantor sat to his right.
From the Alaska Dispatch, which a reader sent in:
So Saturday night, our own Young, with all of his glowering presence, stood next to Cao during the whole vote and worked to protect him and keep the party leaders at bay. It worked. Cao reportedly didn't want to be the deciding vote, but once it was sure to pass, with Young on one side, and another protectorate Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), on the other, Cao was free to be the lone Republican to vote 'aye.'
Young had an active Saturday night on the floor. He shouted at Pelosi as she announced the historic vote total. Earlier, as Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) spoke in opposition to a GOP amendment involving trial lawyers, Young repeatedly shouted "trial lawyer!" him. Young was apparently moved by the irony that Braley is a former trial lawyer himself.
But Young's irony-detection abilities failed him when he shouted at Braley: "They have been lining your pocket!" Young, of course, is under federal investigation for the allegedly ample lining of his own pockets.
The House floor erupted in one of the loudest cheers the chamber has heard in years when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), an hour before midnight, cast the 218th and deciding vote on landmark health care reform.
There were still six minutes and fifty-two seconds on the clock and the chair made a move to gavel the vote closed.
Democrats waived their opposition, keeping the vote open.
Almost every eye in the chamber darted to the far end of the GOP side, where the last possibility for a bipartisan bill sat wedged between Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), both of whom were leaning on him, both literally and figuratively. [See the correction below; it turns out Young was defending Cao from Cantor.]
The White House, two sources told HuffPost, had been working hard to win the vote of Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), a freshman in a strongly Democratic district. The pro-life Cao's vote came into play when an amendment from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) passed overwhelmingly, greatly restricting reproductive rights.
After several minutes, Cao cast a yes vote from his seat, making the bill bipartisan. Reps. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Mike Honda (D-Calif.) waded into the Republican side of the aisle to get to Cao, rub his shoulders and slap him on the back.
Cantor stormed out as the Democrats applauded their defector.
The majority party had seen plenty of defections earlier. A stunning sixty-four Democrats joined with the GOP to pass Stupak's amendment, 240-194.
Stupak, during the vote on the final bill, didn't stick around long. He cast his vote quickly and shook the hand of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), then headed over to the GOP side, where he was warmly welcomed.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a strident partisan, was the first to greet him, shaking his hand and slapping him on the back. Stupak then found Cantor and Young, shook their hands, and retired from the floor to the Republican cloakroom.
Cao's vote was a mere bonus for Democrats, whose spontaneous floor celebration radically outdid the reaction of the Yankees to winning the World Series recently. The normally stoic Pelosi had tears streaming down her cheek. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) bent over and vigorously pumped her fist. Arms were thrown in the air; hugs all around.
As the clock hit ten seconds, Democrats counted down the time, finishing with an even louder cheer as Pelosi read out the tally: 220-215.
Not even the extreme pro-life amendment could dampen enthusiasm. "We'll live to fight that battle," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a passionate supporter of reproductive freedom. "It took a hundred years to do health care. Nothing can dim that."
Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said it was the hardest vote he'd ever whipped. "We crossed a threshold tonight," he said. "This was a tough deal."
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who'd fought for a stronger public option, was fired up, too. "I'm ecstatic. I think it was great," he said, before adding that he wasn't happy with the Stupak amendment or the weaker public option.
As he spoke, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) walked by, handing reporters a statement explaining why he'd been the only liberal to oppose the bill.
Would you have changed your vote if yours was the deciding tally?
"No," said Kucinich. He then added cryptically: "I could've been, but that would've been up to the White House." Kucinich is pushing for inclusion of an amendment that would allow individual states to implement single-payer health care without being sued by insurance companies.
His measure and others, as well as the surprisingly strong showing by pro-life Democrats and the ever-looming immigration issue, threaten the fragility of the bloc of 220.
But for now, Democrats were basking in the moment.
As Speaker Pelosi walked with her leadership team to a press conference, a reporter asked her how she felt as she passed by.
Her eyes filling with tears, she turned and slowed her walk. "I feel great," she said.