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The Woman in the Middle

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) says she takes seriously the threat against her from the Democratic Party's liberal base.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) says she takes seriously the threat against her from the Democratic Party's liberal base. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

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Pace called the C-17 a "great aircraft" and hinted that he wouldn't be too upset if Tauscher, who chairs the subcommittee on strategic forces, stuck a few more into the budget, as she did last year. Gates then revealed the price of the troop increase: $5.6 billion.

"It's amazing how you can walk right in after doing something else for three hours and get them to answer the question nobody had asked," Tauscher said.

But Code Pink activist Zanne Joi, whose shirt read "Stop Funding, Start Impeaching," was not impressed. She said she was horrified that Tauscher hadn't challenged Gates about Iraq, that she had treated the increase as a done deal. "We need her to stand up and end this war," said Joi. She and her Code Pink colleagues recently told Tauscher that if she wouldn't support a bill calling for total withdrawal from Iraq within six months, they'd occupy one of her district offices.

Tauscher rolls her eyes at this kind of talk. She said she doesn't trust anything the Bush administration says, but it's the administration in power. "I want to represent my constituents, so I have to work with this president," she said. "I'm a pragmatic person. I don't have the luxury of saying, 'I'll come back in January 2009 and try to get some work done.' "

Tauscher spent the rest of her day dealing with local issues. She talked immigration with the California Farm Bureau; she strategized about a contract to run Livermore with the University of California; she discussed a traffic plan for Alameda County with a group of public officials. A lawyer named John Gibson stopped by to thank Tauscher for telling his mother nice things about him at a recent event, shortly before his mother died. "I went out on a high note with my mother," he said.

To Tauscher, this is what it means to be a representative. "I bring people together. I get things done," she said. "And I get things done the way the speaker wants."

Appeasing the Left

On Feb. 2, when the House Democrats held their annual retreat in Williamsburg, Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, made it clear that Working for Us didn't work for him.

"Our majority can disappear in a wisp," he told the members. "I'm the sheriff of the incumbent-protection program, and if you need help, let me know. In Blue America, there's no room for PACs to chase vulnerable members they have differences with."

From the crowd, a voice squealed: "Woo hoo!"

It was Tauscher.

Working for Us was created in January by a coalition of bloggers, trial lawyers and labor leaders, the trifecta of Democratic interest groups. But once the group took aim at Tauscher, the trial lawyers quietly withdrew. And Tauscher soon met for a glass of wine with Andy Stern, the feisty liberal who runs the Service Employees International Union; he assured her of his union's support, even though it had helped launch the political action committee. For 12 years, Republicans ran the House according to the "majority of the majority," which meant that the conservative majority within the GOP caucus ruled. Pelosi is trying to run her House according to a consensus of the majority, avoiding legislation that does not have broad Democratic support. She hasn't forced members in swing districts to take tough votes on same-sex marriage, gun control or trade. She is focused on the minimum wage, ethics reform and other issues that can bring together Tauscher and

"Having served in the majority and the minority, I can tell you, the majority is better," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), another moderate who has sparred with Pelosi in the past. "It will take a big tent to keep it."

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