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At Last, Kucinich Draws Republicans to a Cause

Rep. Dennis Kucinich is fighting for his seat back home, but on Capitol Hill the liberal lawmaker is finding some unusual allies.

The Ohio Democrat, who earlier this year rallied bipartisan opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act before it ultimately was reauthorized, reasserted his Congressional influence on issues of war and peace last week with his effort to end the nation’s military involvement in Libya. House Republicans found themselves in the odd position of backing the efforts of the liberal gadfly before GOP leaders cobbled together their own resolution that was approved on the floor.

Kucinich’s resolution was defeated Friday, but he said his efforts during the past two months prompted action in the House.

“I think the victory is in forcing the debate, because there wasn’t going to be a debate except for this resolution,” he said after the vote on his measure.

Kucinich’s success in bringing a Libya resolution to floor was a major victory for the lawmaker who is often an outsider in the Democratic Caucus. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, said Friday’s floor action proves that Kucinich still knows how to wield influence on matters he is most passionate about.

“Dennis, a good friend, has continued to play a very significant role,” the Arizona Democrat said. Kucinich is “underappreciated sometimes by the caucus, but him bringing this issue to light, the war issue, issues of war and peace, I think he has moved this caucus in a direction, as we’re seeing today, that without him I don’t think we would’ve been here.”

One of Kucinich’s closest friends in the House, Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), said it wasn’t surprising that the Kucinich proposal drew Republican support, though he voted against it.

“There’s a whole lot of currents. You have the people who are upset with the way [Obama] handled it. You have the Walter Joneses of the world who don’t think we should be involved in anything and then these things are costing money,” he said.

For Kucinich, it was a hard-fought effort. He delivered an hourlong speech on Libya in March to speak out against President Barack Obama’s decision to support NATO in the fight against dictator Moammar Gadhafi. As Kucinich continued to express his frustrations over the following weeks, he was joined by scores of lawmakers from both sides. On Friday, a total of 87 Republicans supported Kucinich’s resolution, compared with 61 Democrats.

In an interview Thursday with Roll Call, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recalled hearing concerns from his GOP colleagues on the issue of Libya and noted that Kucinich helped stoke a growing desire for Congress to weigh in. The Virginia lawmaker said he brought up the issue with Obama during the GOP Conference’s meeting with the president last week and acknowledged that Kucinich’s influence over his colleagues was unusual.

“It’s counterintuitive to think that we would support Dennis Kucinich. I mean, here’s a guy who’s anti-war, anti-military, and we’re going to support him?” Cantor said.

Like Kucinich, Cantor noted the House’s action was a warning to Obama that Members are irritated by the “seeming disregard of the role that Congress plays under the Constitution.”

One of those Members was staunch conservative Rep. Jeff Landry, who voted for Kucinich’s resolution. While Landry’s and Kucinich’s politics couldn’t be further apart, the Louisiana Republican said Obama needs to be put in check.

“Regardless of our political ideologies, we’re still Members of Congress, and when the executive just usurps its power and ignores the will of the law and Congress, I think it’s the duty of both sides to put him in check,” Landry said.

While Kucinich received plaudits from House colleagues, Ohio Democrats said the lawmaker’s foreign policy platform matters little back home. Kucinich’s hometown of Cleveland has been ravaged by the recession and is one of the fastest-shrinking cities in the country. And as a result of population loss in the area, Kucinich’s district will be on the chopping block later this year when state lawmakers redraw Ohio Congressional boundaries. They must cut the delegation by two seats, reducing it to 16 Members.

“The foreign policy — Libya, Syria — I think that barely registers among most people,” former Rep. Dennis Eckart (D-Ohio) said. “This is still an area, region of the country and part of the state that is very hard hit by economic issues and foreclosures.”

Kucinich is still well-regarded in his district for his constituent services and his populist economic message, but if that constituency changes greatly in 2012, he will have a hard time winning re-election over one of his Democratic colleagues in a nearby suburban district.

The two-time presidential candidate has gone as far as Washington state in search of a potential district to represent in Congress, should he lose his current seat to Republican-controlled redistricting. While he faces a possible end to his years in public service in Ohio, which began when he became mayor of Cleveland in 1977, Kucinich said he would continue fighting for the issues that have been a mainstay of his career.

“While I’m here, I’m going to keep doing the work I’m doing,” Kucinich said. “I can’t control what goes on in redistricting; I can choose to be involved in what goes on on the floor of the House. So beyond that, I don’t have any control.”

Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.