Rep. Yvette D. Clarke’s copy of Thursday’s New York Daily News tells it all.
The freshman Democrat from Brooklyn approached Sen. Barack Obama during his impromptu visit to the House floor and got him to autograph the front page, which features Obama’s picture and the headline, “IT’S HIS PARTY.”
Clarke actually supports Obama’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. A few minutes earlier she had sequestered herself, along with a few other Clinton backers, away from the mob of lawmakers who surrounded Obama, D-Ill., on the floor.
Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. , D-Ill., a longtime Obama pal and political ally, taunted Clarke and her friends by calling out to reporters that they were staying away from Obama because “they’re scared they’re going to get elected.”
Obama generated quite a buzz on the House floor after a morning meeting with moderate and conservative House Democrats. His fate, like Clinton’s, now seems certain to be determined by Democratic superdelegates, including many House members who have yet to declare their allegiance.
Between bites of an apple, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, one of the party’s most liberal members, threw her arms around Obama, an apt metaphor for the embrace supporters say he is getting from the party after defeating Clinton in this week’s North Carolina primary and holding her to a narrow victory margin in Indiana.
“People are warming to his campaign,” Jackson said.
But Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, D-Calif., a staunch Clinton supporter, was decidedly cool to the unusual presence of a senator on the House floor. “I have a question in my mind whether it’s kosher, whether it’s ethical. I don’t think he should be doing this on the House floor. This is the first time I remember him being on our floor,” she said.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., offered a far different interpretation. “This shows you the kind of hands-on presidency we’ll see from Barack Obama,” Cummings said.
As he made his rounds, it seemed as if everyone wanted a piece of Obama:
• Members of the Blue Dog Coalition met with him privately in a Capitol Hill townhouse, then acted as an entourage as he made his way to the Capitol;
• Teenaged girls shrieked as he passed by; Obama Courts Superdelegate Votes on House Floor
• A Code Pink war protester beseeched him to vote against Iraq war funding;
• And retiring Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering of Mississippi, a Republican, crossed the center aisle of the House to introduce two young boys to Obama.
Pickering’s father was nominated to a federal appeals court judgeship but not confirmed after liberal interest groups portrayed him as racially insensitive.
After a second round of superdelegate meetings that lasted three hours, Obama won two new endorsements: Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina, who met with Obama during one session with North Carolina Democrats, and Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington.
The lawmakers who met with Obama before his floor visit included several who are already committed to him and undeclared superdelegates Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Zack Space of Ohio, Jim Costa of California, Robert E. “Bud” Cramer of Alabama, Dennis Moore of Kansas and Tim Mahoney of Florida.
Most of their districts favored Clinton, and support from those lawmakers would be highly valuable for Obama, even if politically dangerous for some of the members.
Some of those inside the townhouse meeting said Obama did not ask for endorsements. He did talk about issues of interest to the members, ranging from coastal environmental concerns to transportation and infrastructure issues.
Space, who has met with both candidates this week, said he is still weighing his options.
“What I am trying to do is get a better perspective on them on both a policy and a personal level,” Space said. “Either one of them would be a fine nominee.”
Melancon said he is primarily focused on improving the outlook for Gulf Coast recovery assistance nearly three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged his district.
“It would be very nice if I were the deciding vote,” he said.
As such, he is no rush to commit.
“Let’s finish the primary system,” he said.
Clinton added two congressional superdelegates to her endorsement tally – Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, both freshmen whose election in formerly GOP-held districts contributed to the change of party control in the House.
The changes on both sides brought the tally of nominating convention delegates to 1,846 for Obama and 1,696 for Clinton, according to the Associated Press count.
On the House floor, Obama appeared at ease, at one point kneeling as he spoke to undeclared superdelegate John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina. He also made his way to the chamber’s Murtha corner, where Pennsylvanians, appropriators, and other friends congregate around Defense Appropriations Chairman John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania.
Murtha, who campaigned for Clinton in his home state, rose to his feet to shake hands with the man many Democrats believe has secured their party’s presidential nomination with just six contests remaining on the primary calendar.
Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary, but Murtha said after this week’s split decisions in Indiana and North Carolina, “a lot of the superdelegates that might have been ready to get behind Hillary after Pennsylvania are now hesitant.”
Obama insisted he wasn’t campaigning.
“The goal was just to say hello. I have not [previously] been over to the House side,” Obama said after leaving the chamber.
“I just wanted to make sure that I gave an update not only to my supporters, but to those who are trying to figure out what direction to go in,” he said. “Obviously some have been anxious about some of the sense of division in the party, and I just wanted to assure them that whatever happens, we will be coming together.”
Senators have floor privileges under House rules.
A number of Republicans said they were not aware of Obama’s presence as he made his rounds on the floor.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she didn’t know beforehand that Obama would visit the House floor, but “he and Sen. Clinton are always welcome, as are all other senators.”
After leaving the floor, Obama walked up and down a staircase filled with a large group of pages, who were touring the Capitol, posed for pictures and then headed back across the Capitol to the Senate – but not to the Senate floor. He missed a roll call vote there.