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Turning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi into an electoral boogeyman is all the rage this year among Republicans trying to gain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Republicans have spent much of 2010 portraying Rep. John Boccieri as Pelosi’s clone. The GOP candidate for Boccieri’s seat, Jim Renacci, has repeatedy stated that Boccieri votes with Pelosi 94 percent of the time.
The National Republican Congressional Committee label’s Boccieri as one of "Pelosi’s Puppets" on its website. It attacks his voting record in a television ad it began airing this week.
"In fact, 93 percent of the time, Boccieri voted with Nancy Pelosi," the ad claims. "Nancy Pelosi can count on John Boccieri," concludes the ad, which pictures of both legislators. "What about us?"
PolitiFact Ohio decided to take a look.
The NRCC cites a Washington Post voting database to back up its contention.
But Boccieri dismisses claims that he frequently votes with Pelosi as dishonest because House speakers seldom vote. The Washington Post voting database shows Pelosi has voted a mere 94 times in the past two years, while Boccieri has cast 1,550 votes.
"That is just a tradition for Speakers -- they often don't vote," says Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. " She votes on some bills, not all."
The Washington Post says its database represents "the percentage of votes on which a lawmaker agrees with the position taken by a majority of his or her party members," rather than the frequency with which they vote with a particular party leader. It says Boccieri voted with his party 94 percent of the time over the past two years. The average party loyalty for all members is listed at 90.6 percent.
Why does the NRCC claim the the Washington Post database represents how often Boccieri votes with Pelosi rather than how often he backs the Democratic majority? NRCC spokesman Tory Mazzola thinks there’s no difference because Pelosi is the party leader.
"Speaker Pelosi is the leader of John Boccieri’s party, and this non-partisan, independent database confirms that he votes with Speaker Pelosi and her Democratic party at almost every turn." said an email from Mazzola.
The difference between the 94 percent statistic in the database and the 93 percent number in the ad may be because the Washington Post regularly updates the database, and extra votes were cast since the NRCC extracted its information. We don’t think it’s worth arguing over such a small difference.
But how much would the statistic change if Boccieri’s votes were measured against the 94 votes that Pelosi actually cast? Did he vote with her 93 percent of the time? We decided to do the math.
We exclude three quorum calls from our calculations because they’re noncontroversial votes where everyone says they’re "present." With those out of the picture, Boccieri voted with Pelosi in 77 out of 91 votes, an agreement ratio of 84.6 percent, which makes the Democrat from Alliance look somewhat more independent than Republicans maintain.
And Boccieri differed from Pelosi on some key votes:
- He voted against the first incarnation of a health insurance reform bill that he ended up supporting after it was altered by the U.S. Senate.
- He backed an amendment designed to block tax dollars from funding abortions.
- He supported a symbolic measure that would have blocked the government from using $350 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Fund money.
There still is a kernel of truth here. The NRCC’s underlying point is that Boccieri votes with the majority a lot. But the NRCC’s accuracy suffers because it chose to try to tie Boccieri to a politican it deems unpopular, rather than say what the Washington Post’s database shows.
And when you look at how the House speaker’s votes match up with Boccieri’s, his support hasn’t been as lockstep as the Republicans claim. We rate the NRCC’s claim as Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
The Wall Street Journal, "Pelosi Key to GOP 2010 Playbook," by Naftali Bendavid, Oct. 12, 2009
Jim Renacci for Congress, news releases from June 17, 2010, and Aug. 24, 2010
National Republican Congressional Committee, "Who’s John Boccieri’s Real Boss," television ad first aired Oct. 4, 2010
National Republican Congressional Committee, "Pelosi’s Puppets," organizational website
The Plain Dealer, "Freshman Democrat John Boccieri is Northeast Ohio’s top target for Republicans seeking control of the U.S. House," by Sabrina Eaton, June 1, 2010
National Journal, "How House members scored on liberal-conservative scales in three issue categories and overall," Feb. 27, 2010
Washington Post, Database of congressional votes.
Email from Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Oct. 5, 2010.
Email from Tory Mazzola, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman, Oct. 5, 2010
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