The White House spent weeks trying to convince Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao to support the House health care reform bill before he finally cast his vote in favor of the Democratic package, the Republican congressman from Louisiana said Monday.
Cao was the only Republican to back the House bill Saturday night. He told Fox News that he bucked his party out of a sense of obligation for his district, which encompasses most of New Orleans.
"My vote was a vote of conscience," Cao said. "Whether or not it was a popular vote for the party is of little relevance to me."
But Cao said the Obama administration invested considerable time in him. He said President Obama spoke with him for "a period of a couple weeks" and that Obama's staff spoke with him "on a number of occasions."
The final pitch came Saturday around noon, when Obama called Cao and apparently offered assurances that he would help economic recovery in his district, which is mostly minority and poor. Obama got 75 percent of the votes in Cao's district in last November's presidential election.
"We were able to sit down to talk about recovery, to talk about the needs of the district," Cao told Fox News, though he said no "promises" were made. "The administration and I, we have a very great relationship."
The health care reform bill passed by a 220-215 vote Saturday. Cao's backing denied the Republican Party the ability to claim a unanimous rejection of the bill, and it allows Democrats to claim some semblance of bipartisan support.
Republicans suggested they weren't surprised by the vote.
"We've been working with him for months on this," House Minority Leader John Boehner said of Cao.
Cao's unique political circumstances make him a special case and could help justify his vote in the eyes of other Republicans.
The Republican won in an upset election last December, ousting embattled Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, who has since been convicted on federal corruption charges.
But Cao's victory also immediately made him one of the most vulnerable GOP members in the House. Cao was keenly aware of how the health care reform vote could affect his political future.
According to The Times-Picayune, he said over the summer that "voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career."
With the "yes" vote, Cao may give himself a fighting chance.
The Republican gave a twofold explanation for his decision late Saturday, saying in a written statement that he was standing against taxpayer funding for abortion as much as he was standing for health care reform.
Cao said the last-minute amendment to restrict federal funding toward abortions, a sticking point for many moderates, was a deciding factor for him.
"Thanks to the ... amendment, taxpayer dollars will not go to supporting elective abortions, and for thousands of my constituents, this was a top priority," he said. "By incorporating this amendment into the health reform bill, my colleagues and I made this bill better, and that is an achievement of which I will always be proud."
Cao even copied in an endorsement of his vote from Gregory Aymond, archbishop of New Orleans, who said he was "grateful" to Cao for his "determination to defend life."