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In congressional races across the country, Republicans are trying to link Democratswith House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been demonized by GOP leaders.
One example can be found in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, where the Republican challenger, state Sen. Robert Hurt, has repeatedly lashed out at Democratic incumbent Rep. Tom Perriello for his alleged loyalty to the House speaker, particularly on high-profile issues.
In a recent posting on Hurt’s website, his campaign lays out a "Breakdown of Congressman Perriello’s actions while in Congress." Second on the list: "Congressman Perriello voted in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi 90 percent of the time, 100 percent of the time on the signature issues that kill jobs, increase Washington’s reckless spending spree, and vastly expand the size and scope of the federal government."
Having found that similar claims in other states were exaggerated, PolitiFact Virginia decided to check the assertion that Perriello voted with Pelosi 90 percent of the time.
Asked for the source of the claim, Hurt’s campaign pointed to the same Washington Post congressional voting database that has been cited as the foundation for similar claims in other races.
But that’s where the claim begins to stray from the truth. While that database measures the the percentage of votes on which a lawmaker agrees with the position taken by a majority of his or her party members, it does not measure how often they agree with a particular party leader.
A look at the database reveals that Perriello voted with his party 90.4 percent of the time, so we set about the task of finding out how often he voted in with Pelosi specifically.
Because House Speakers rarely vote, Pelosi has only cast 94 votes since the start of 2009, while Perriello has cast 1,502. So we measured the number of times Perriello has agreed with Pelosi on matters where both recorded votes. Of the 88 times, excluding procedural roll calls, where both have voted, Perriello went against Pelosi 19 times, making his true record of following the House Speaker’s lead 78.4 percent. That’s significantly lower than 90 percent.
Hurt’s campaign is correct that the two voted together on some major Democratic initiatives -- the stimulus package, health care and cap and trade. But Perriello did notably dissent from Pelosi and his party on the Wall Street bailout. In fact, of Virginia’s 11 members of Congress, Perriello breaks rank more than anyone else other than Rep. Glenn Nye, a Democrat from Hampton Roads.
The average party loyalty of all 444 House members on votes over the past two years is 90.6 percent, so by that measure, Perriello is typical. But he’s less faithful than the average Democrat, who votes with the party 92.2 percent of the time.
Amanda Henneberg, Hurt’s spokeswoman, said voting with the Democratic Party is the equivalent of voting with Pelosi since she is the party’s House leader and has voted with her party 100 percent of the time. Furthermore, Henneberg notes that Pelosi has not missed any votes, but has chosen not to participate in the traditional sense when it didn’t matter.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said that if the House Speaker did vote on every issue, the claim would have more truth.
"A good case can be made that the recorded number is only part of the real, larger story," he said. "Our Congress today is so partisan that almost all Democrats vote together on anything important, and almost all Republicans vote the other way. The Speaker would side with her party every time ... So you don't get the full picture with the 94 recorded votes."
So let’s recap.
First, the Hurt campaign says Perriello voted with Pelosi 90 percent of the time, which is incorrect. He voted with his party 90 percent, but voted with Pelosi only 78.4 percent, which is significantly lower.
Still, there is support for Hurt’s underlying point that Perriello votes with his party much of the time. So we find the claim Half True.
Washington Post, House voting records for 111th Congress, Perriello’s voting record, accessed Oct. 20, 2010.
Washington Post, House voting records for 111th Congress, Perriello’s votes with party, accessed Oct. 20, 2010.
Washington Post, House voting records for 111th Congress, Pelosi’s voting record, accessed Oct. 20, 2010.
Robert Hurt For Congress, "Post Debate Takeaways", Oct. 14, 2010.
Lynchburg News & Advance, "Perriello touts independent streak in bid to keep seat," Oct. 5, 2010.
Email interview with Perriello spokeswoman Jessica Barba, Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, 2010.
Email interview with Hurt spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg, Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, 2010.
Email interview with UVA political commentator Larry Sabato, Oct. 21, 2010
Phone and e-mail interview with Pelosi spokewoman, Oct. 21, 2010
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