First Order of Business for Two Freshman House Democrats: Buck the Party

Gwen Graham and Brad Ashford brandish their political independence during their first week in Congress.

Representative-elect Brad Ashford, a Democrat from Nebraska, gestures after picking number 11 in the member-elect room lottery draw on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

First-term Democratic Representatives Gwen Graham and Brad Ashford are showing an early willingness to buck their party's liberal majority and align with some Republican priorities.

They were part of a small bloc of Democrats voting with Republicans in the first week of the 114th Congress to approve the Keystone XL oil pipelinechange the definition of a full-time employee under Obamacare's employer mandate, and ease some requirements under the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law.

Look for Graham and Ashford to brandish these votes, and others to come, when they prepare to defend their seats in 2016 against Republican criticism that they're toe-the-line partisans. They were the only Democrats who unseated House Republicans in 2014, which was a bad year for Democrats almost everywhere else. (It helped that their opponents, Representatives Steve Southerland and Lee Terry, respectively, made imprudent comments.) They are also two of just five House Democrats from districts that Republican Mitt Romney won in the 2012 presidential election, and the 2016 Republican nominee is likely to carry their districts too.

“As it currently stands, Obamacare is forcing businesses to choose between providing health care for their employees and keeping their doors open—and Nebraskans are losing income as a result,” said Ashford, who represents Nebraska's 2nd District in the Omaha area, in a statement Thursday explaining why he joined every Republican and 11 Democrats in voting to redefine the threshold for full-time employment under the Affordable Care Act from 30 hours to 40 hours per week.

Graham, who represents Florida's 2nd District in and around Tallahassee, was among four Democrats who opposed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker. Graham made the vow to oppose Pelosi during her campaign and voted instead for Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee.

Her reasoning?

“He meets my criteria as someone who can be bipartisan,” she told the Tallahassee Democrat on Tuesday.