Republicans say it's Pelosi's fault

House Republicans say Speaker Nancy Pelosi alienated their members with a little partisan rhetoric in the debate over a Wall Street bailout.

Published September 29, 2008 6:57PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- Even before the House killed a Wall Street bailout, Republicans had decided they knew who to blame.

"Jesus Christ, Pelosi's speech torpedoed this thing," a senior House Republican aide e-mailed me. "What was she thinking?"

By the time the gavel fell on the vote, that had turned from a quip into a talking point. Republican leaders accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of "poisoning" the debate over the bill with partisanship. "During this whole process, the tone in the room was so much better than the tone outside the room," Republican whip Roy Blunt, of Missouri, told reporters. Blunt was the House GOP's lead negotiator on the bill. "We worked together well to try to come up with a compromise, and every time you turn on television or read an article about the press reports of what the other side was saying, it was all about how either the Republicans were unpatriotic or were there too late or whatever."

What did Pelosi say that drove Republicans to ignore the pleas of their leaders and the White House to vote the bill down? Most of her floor speech was pretty harmless, with the sorts of Main Street/Wall Street clichés that both sides have been throwing around all week. She talked up bipartisanship and said Republicans had joined Democrats on some important points. There was this one section that probably didn't please too many conservatives:

"Today, we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership that has left us left capable of meeting the challenges of the future. We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a new direction to a better future."

But honestly, that doesn't explain why only 65 Republicans voted for the bill. Pelosi had, at one point, been looking for 100 Republicans to join a majority of Democrats to pass it; instead, 133 of them voted against it. Republican leaders say Pelosi failed to bring along enough Democrats to pass the legislation, but if Blunt and John Boehner and their colleagues in the Republican leadership had done what Pelosi did -- and gotten a majority of their caucus to support the bill -- it would have passed easily. Blunt said he expected 12 more votes from the GOP caucus; the bill would have failed by one vote if that had happened.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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