In the end, the great moderate Republican revolt to stop Tea Partiers from shuttering the government numbered just two members of the House. One was Peter King, who readers will remember as the New Yorker who held scurrilous hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims and laid into his fellow Republicans for voting against relief aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The only other House Republican to join him—voting to prevent the rest of the GOP from “dirtying” the clean continuing resolution the Senate was willing to pass—is a little-known Eastern Pennsylvania representative named Charlie Dent.
Dent is a five-term Congressman who took over Pat Toomey’s seat when he ran for Senator in 2004. He sticks with his party on nearly 90 percent of House votes—but in this day and age, that earns him the title of “centrist.” Since his seat is serially coveted by Democrats, Dent has spent his political career balancing his membership in the House GOP caucus with his moderate reputation. Here are some of his trickiest tightrope feats:
After waffling a bit at first, Dent has been willing time and again to vote for Rep. Paul Ryan’s austere and mathematically dubious budgets so long as they leave key elderly voters and their Medicare well enough alone. When he voted for the Ryan budget in March of this year, he praised its balance and foresight:
"Unrestrained deficits and debt are economic anchors on growth and an impediment to private sector job creation and a healthy economy. None of the budgets presented by my Democratic colleagues ever achieve balance. That is unacceptable to me. The House Budget moves our nation to balance within a reasonable time frame."
Here’s an issue where Dent wears progressive stripes. Dent was one of just fifteen Republicans in the House and Senate who voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Dent is a cosponsor of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a bill that forces school districts to adopt anti-bullying measures that extend to LGBT students. He is also a cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, an act to protect workers from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and the Uniting American Families Act, a bill to let citizens in same-sex unions sponsor their partners for green cards. (The Supreme Court achieved this objection when it struck down DOMA this summer.)
Dent also broke with most House Republicans this spring in voting against a ban on abortion after 20 weeks gestation. The Pennsylvanian explained he had other, bigger things on his mind:
“I’ll be very frank: I discouraged our leadership from bringing this to a vote on the floor. Clearly the economy is on everyone’s minds, we’re seeing very stagnant job numbers, confidence in the institution of government is eroding and now we’re going to have a debate on rape and abortion. The stupidity is simply staggering.”
Birthers on the side
Dent’s balancing act also includes polite sit-downs with some of Pennsylvania’s birthers.
In a podcast posted early this September, Mike Volin, the proprietor of wheresobamasbirthcertificate.com, described a private presentation that he and four other birther activists gave Dent and an aide in the congressman’s office. “It was exciting to actually have a face-to-face. He took the time out,” Volin said on the podcast. “And he was glued to that screen.” Volin giving Dent a “sheriff’s kit”—the dossier compiled by Sheriff Joe Arpaio that “investigates” the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate. The meeting concluded with Dent promising to instruct his legal staff to vet the materials.
And here is how Dent straddled the GOP divide as forces in the party fought each other this weekend: Early Sunday morning, Dent voted for a bill that funded the government on the condition that Obamacare be delayed for a year—the House measure that started this mess in the first place.
But by Sunday evening, Dent had assumed the air of the grownup in the room, hustling for votes to pass a stopgap spending bill without any changes to Obamacare. “I’m prepared to vote for a clean resolution tomorrow,” Dent told the New York Times on Sunday afternoon. “It’s time to govern. I don’t intend to support a fool’s errand at this point.” (Dent seems to have learned from earlier spending battles. In 2011, when Dent held the GOP line and refused to vote to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for billions in spending cuts, Dent caught heat a lot of heat from his constituents. As Nate Cohn pointed out, Dent’s district went for Romney last year by only 3 points.)
Dent urged Boehner on Monday to allow a full House vote on a clean resolution, saying that his speakership would still be safe if he did so. “Most members do not want the government to shut down, and the hourglass is nearly empty,” Dent told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post. Never mind that he had helped run out the hourglass in the first place.
Molly Redden is a New Republic staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @mtredden.