Cao cast his vote after Democrats had tallied the 218 needed to win -- and after passage of Rep. Bart Stupak's amendment forbidding federal funding of abortions. The Catholic lawmaker, who represents an overwhelmingly Democratic district in New Orleans, said the amendment was "a top priority."
On his Web page, Cao also said President Obama promised to work with him on the "critical health care issues" in his state, which is still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
Cao's vote surprised many observers, even though he's gained a reputation for being willing to cooperate with the White House during his first year in office. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin criticized him for siding with Democrats on several other bills and said the presidential pledge that helped sway Cao on this one was worth nothing. "The congressman's about as cheap a date as they come," added National Review's Andy McCarthy.
The American Spectator's Quin Hillyer didn't like the vote but praised Cao for representing his constituents while standing up for his personal convictions on abortion. Hillyer urged conservatives to "give the man a break" and called Cao "an honorable, incredibly hard-working, inspirational young representative."
Cao defeated scandal-plagued incumbent Democrat William Jefferson last year to become the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress and give the GOP Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District for the first time in a century. House Minority Leader John Boehner hailed Cao's victory as a symbol of what the Republican Party can achieve. Cao laughed and made note of that Sunday when asked about GOP chairman Michael Steele's threat to go after Republicans who don't toe the party line.
While Cao was the only Republican to cross the aisle on health care reform, 39 Democrats sided with the opposition. This New York Times chart illustrates how many of them are in districts that went Republican in last year's presidential election. Just as Republicans don't want to lose Cao's seat next year, Democrats hope to protect their vulnerable incumbents in 2010.
Now the scene shifts to the Senate, where the contest will become even more of a numbers game. Democrats need 60 votes to pass a bill, and with Independent Joe Lieberman renewing his filibuster threat, a single vote could make all the difference.