House Democrats' second-in-command is walking a tightrope on the trade legislation that could hit the House floor as soon as this week.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has defended the moderate Democrats who have come under attack for supporting the bill, while at the same time downplaying President Obama's struggles with the majority of Democrats who oppose it. All the while, Hoyer has given no signal on how he personally plans to vote.
On the one hand, his support could give cover to enough Democrats to get the bill passed and hand Obama a victory late in his tenure. On the other, it could be tough for Hoyer to vote against the vast majority of his caucus's members—members whose votes he'll need should he run to be their leader someday.
Hoyer says this political calculus plays no part in his thinking. "My vote's going to be made on the substance of what I believe, not on any ramifications that it might have," he said in a Tuesday sit-down with reporters. "I don't mean that it doesn't have ramifications; I presume it does. But nobody's told me anything that would lead me to believe that anybody expects me to cast my vote other than on what I believe."
Both Hoyer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have largely stayed out of the fray on Obama's bid for Trade Promotion Authority—a measure that would give Congress an up-or-down vote on trade deals but eliminate legislators' ability to tweak or filibuster them. While members have praised the leaders' open-minded, hear-all-sides approach, neither will be able to remain neutral much longer.