EXCLUSIVE: GOPer Cao: Health vote may end career

Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao acknowledged Wednesday that becoming the lone House Republican to vote in favor of health-care reform was a rookie move that could end his upstart political career.

“I am a novice,” said Mr. Cao, Louisiana Republican, who was elected in December 2008. “But I have to do what my conscience tells me to do.”

Mr. Cao repeatedly has said since last weekend that he supported the legislation only after he received the blessing of Catholic bishops and assurance from the White House that the bill limited federal funding for abortions, and because residents across his state — particularly those in Orleans and Jefferson parishes — either have no access to health care or cannot afford the cost.

However, those explanations have not sat well with Republican Party leaders, including those concerned about the bill’s estimated $1.2 trillion cost.

“We’re coming after you,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said before the House vote. “You’re going to find yourself in a very tough hole … if you argue for (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi’s health plan. There’s no justification for growing the size of government the way this administration wants to do it.”

Mr. Cao told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show Wednesday that he has not spoken with Mr. Steele, who also warned Republicans living in moderate to slightly liberal districts about “crossing that line on conservative principles.”

Mr. Cao, the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress, represents Louisiana’s solidly Democrat 2nd Congressional District. In his first political campaign, Mr. Cao, a former community activist, defeated Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat under indictment on corruption charges during the election.

“If the chairman believes that I’m not conservative enough for the GOP, that’s his prerogative,” Mr. Cao said. “I hope he will continue to work with me to arrive at good solutions for the country. Causing a rift between moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans would not be good for the party.”

Democratic national leaders would not say whether they have courted Mr. Cao about switching parties.

“In the wake of the special election in[New York’s 23 congressional district], the message to any remaining Republican moderates, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party is in control and will not tolerate differing opinions.” said Ryan Rudominer, national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Congressman Cao is a painfully honest guy, and what he meant by his comment is that he’s not someone that has been hailed as a D.C. insider,” said Cao spokeswoman Princella D. Smith. “He is the most untraditional elected official on Capitol Hill, and he doesn’t even think of himself as a politician. His background includes social justice advocacy and a trek to the priesthood — not political consulting.

“He thinks for himself and works on behalf of his district. That doesn’t mean that he’s not a Republican. It means he’s doing his job. One vote is not going to change that. That’s why the GOP leaders respect him. They may not agree with all of his views, and they certainly didn’t agree with this vote, as evidence by Saturday’s vote count. But this in no way reflects a rift between him and the party leadership including Chairman Steele. As someone who has worked for Chairman Steele, I can tell you that he is a man of ideas and the bigger picture. The Republican Party consists of both moderates and conservatives. If there is any Republican — any official — who can win LA-02 in 2010, it’s Joseph Cao.”

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