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GOP lawmaker's health vote costs some support

The only Republican in the House to vote for a Democrat-backed health care bill says he has had two fundraisers canceled and some campaign contributors have asked for their money back.
Cao Health Care
Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-La., says he stands by hsi vote in support of health care overhaul legislation.Bill Haber / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The only Republican in the House to vote for a Democrat-backed health care bill says he has had two fundraisers canceled since Saturday's vote and some campaign contributors have asked for their money back.

But Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao said Tuesday he stands by the vote. "At the end of the day we all have to represent our respective districts," he told The Associated Press.

Cao rejected any notion that he might leave the Republican Party. And House minority whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said he plans no political retaliation against Cao.

"No," Cantor said when asked if retaliation was planned. "Because I am well aware that Anh Cao is a thoughtful legislator. He weighed the pluses and minuses of the bill in his vote."

Cantor, in New Orleans for a fund raiser for Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, made it clear he was unhappy with the vote but said the party still supports Cao (pronounced 'GOW).

Cao is a 41-year-old Vietnamese-American who won an upset victory over black Democrat William Jefferson in a mostly black, mostly Democratic district. Jefferson had been politically hobbled by a criminal indictment and has since been convicted.

Soon after taking office, Cao drew harsh criticism in the New Orleans-based district for siding with his party against President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill. But he has also broken with the party before on issues including an expansion of health insurance for children.

A former Jesuit seminarian, Cao said he joined the Republican Party because of its opposition to abortion. "But I've never been a partisan politician," he said. "If you were to listen to me on some of the issues on the hill, I have addressed my frustration toward partisan politics."

Uphill climb to re-election?
Cao was lobbied by the White House to help pass the health bill. In those discussions, he said he stressed the needs of his district, which was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, including the need for more disaster recovery loans and hospitals. He said no promises were made by the White House to get his vote. He added that at the time of the discussions Saturday he could not commit to support the bill because an amendment he insisted on that explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortions had not yet passed.

Louisiana Republican Party spokesman Aaron Baer said the party disagreed with Cao's vote but he knew of no plans to attempt to oust Cao in next year's GOP primary.

Bryan Wagner, a New Orleans Republican leader who helped guide Cao's campaign last year, noted that Senate opposition to the House bill is strong and said much of the anger against Cao will die down "as people see that Senate passage of a similar bill is not something that's coming."

The state Democratic Party declined comment on Cao's vote Tuesday afternoon.

Cao's victory last year was heralded by national Republican leaders but it came under unusual circumstances: Jefferson, once immensely popular, had to fight off challengers in a Democratic primary and runoff before facing Cao. And the general election had been delayed by two hurricanes earlier in the year. Without Barack Obama's presence at the top of the ballot, black turnout was down and Cao won a narrow victory.

Ed Chervenak, a University of New Orleans political science professor, said it will be difficult for Cao to repeat the victory. Two African-American Democrats have already said they plan to seek the seat and Chervenak expects the black vote will be better mobilized this time.

"Either way he votes he faces an uphill climb in his re-election," Chervenak said. "The demographics of the district are just aligned against him."