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Democratic Establishment Coalesces Around Big Vote

Looks like we have a date set for the crucial series of health care votes in the House – March 19 and 20. In advance of that, practically everything Democrats have in their chamber will be emptied, from mass action to primary challenge threats.

Organizing for America has returned to the fray. I’ve received multiple text messages asking me to call my Rep. in support of the bill (Henry Waxman wrote a lot of it, so I don’t think his vote is in doubt). In addition, volunteer phone banks are being set up throughout the country to call voters in swing districts, getting them to call their representatives to support the bill. No doubt these calls are going into the 40-odd districts where the vote of a particular member of Congress has yet to be decided.

In addition, SEIU openly threatened a primary challenge for one wayward Congressman if he votes no on the bill.

Dem Rep Mike McMahon of New York met yesterday with a top SEIU official and told him he’s likely to vote No, the official tells me. The official: Mike Fishman, president of SEIU 32bj, the largest property workers union in the country, with 120,000 members in eight states.

Fishman told McMahon that the union would not support him if he voted No — and suggested the hunt for a primary or third-party challenger would follow.

“He let us know he’s not supportive of the health care plan,” Fishman says. “We’ve let him know that we can’t support somebody who doesn’t support it.”

“We are going to begin talking to other unions about finding someone else for that seat,” Fishman continued.

I’ve mentioned before that lots of states have already seen filing deadlines pass, so this tactic will not work. But New York holds a late primary, and they have several undecided votes in their delegation – Scott Murphy, Dan Maffei, Bill Owens, McMahon, Tim Bishop and Mike Arcuri, to name a few. SEIU 1199 wants to enlist the Working Families Party, a key constituency for New York Democrats, in this effort.

So far, McMahon doesn’t sound swayed, at least not in this statement:

“Congressman McMahon is proud to have earned the support of working men and women because of his commitment to issues such as the Employee Free Choice Act.”

“But he is equally proud to have earned the support of his constituents in Brooklyn and Staten Island because of his political independence, ability to work across party lines to get results for his district and his commitment to protecting the jobs of our teachers, police officers, firefighters and hospital workers.”

“He will continue to work with the Administration, as he did when he voted for the President’s budget and the stimulus, and he won’t be afraid to disagree either–as he did when he voted against the health care bill.”

McMahon doesn’t rule out flipping on the bill, however, and the threat of a primary appears real. So we’ll see if this sways him.

Expect this level of urgency for the next week. It may not persuade everyone, but it has the potential to be very persuasive.

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David Dayen

David Dayen