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GOP sees advantage in offshore oil drilling

Republicans pack the House with tourists to make their case as polls show it could work.

By / August 12, 2008

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla., r.), spoke alongside Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind., c.) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tx.) during a press conference urging House Democrats to end their recess to proceed on a debate on offshore drilling in Washington, DC.

Kevin Dietsch/UPI Photo/NEWSCOM


Washington – The lights are dim, the mikes are off, and the television cameras dark in the US House of Representatives. But minority Republicans – sensing traction with voters on the issue of offshore drilling – aren't giving up the floor.

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Nearly 90 GOP lawmakers, about 40 percent of the Republican caucus, have come back to Washington since the House voted to adjourn on Aug. 1 to protest Speaker Nancy Pelosi's refusal to allow a vote to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling.

"The American people deserve more access to American oil, and Congress should be in session until we vote," said Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana, speaking to a chamber half-filled with tourists, escorted by GOP lawmakers to break off their tours of the Capitol and take a seat on the floor. He urged the tourists, many of whom seemed astonished to find themselves on the floor of the US House of Representatives, to "call to a Democratic member of Congress from your state" to demand a vote.

"We were lucky to be here," says Anjali Srivastava, exiting the floor of the House with a tour group from Lansing, Mich. The members of Congress talked about "energy and terrorism," she said.

While tourist power may not be enough to move to a vote, Republican lawmakers say that voter power is — and that polls show that public opinion has shifted decisively their way.

"The public has clearly changed its mind about drilling," says Peter Brown, assistant director at Quinnipiac's Polling Institute, citing a recent poll.

A majority used to think it was not worth any potential environmental risks. The opinion seems to have changed that the nation needs to do everything, including drilling, he added.

"In a year when the playing field is stacked enormously in favor of the Democrats and Obama, this is an issue that seems to help Republicans and they're trying to make the most of it," he added. "Republicans are trying to keep the issue alive because it works for them, and the data suggests that the issue is working."

Last month, Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said that he now favors offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive solution. On Monday night, Speaker Pelosi said in a television interview on CNN's Larry King Live that Republicans "have this thing that says drill offshore in the protected areas. We can do that. We can have a vote on that."