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Frustrated by White House PR Gains, House Republicans Call in K Street Big Guns

Kevin McCarthy speaks at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) election watch party at the Washington Hyatt on Tuesday, November 2, 2010.(Liz Lynch)

photo of Chris Frates
December 4, 2012

Frustrated by a White House that's winning the fiscal cliff messaging war, senior aides to House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy assembled some of K Street's top GOP communicators for a Monday briefing and brainstorming session to turn the tide, according to multiple sources inside the room.

Tim Berry, McCarthy's chief of staff, told the group of eight GOP message mavens that the White House is not seriously engaged in talks with House Republicans, but is still successfully painting them as the obstructionists.

“One of the things that was said was that the White House is winning right now and we've got to turn that back around because we do want a deal," said a meeting participant. "But right now, the narrative is it’s Republicans who are standing in the way of getting a deal.”

Republicans think President Obama is pushing them toward the cliffs in hopes that they'll cave on their opposition to raising tax rates on top earners -- and Republicans are searching for a way to flip the script on the president.

“They’d rather win the political victory on this. How can we fight back against that and how can we make that point and how can we message that we’re the party of small business owners and we’re not defending the rich?” asked a meeting participant.

The conversation turned to creating an echo chamber around a simple message: "Republicans want a deal." It's a talking point participants say the public can expect to hear a lot more. In fact, on CNBC today, McCartney said, "We want to be in the room. Let's get this done."

The Republican brain trust also talked about the need to personalize the GOP message and start talking about how the fiscal cliff would hurt people, filling their op-eds, press conferences and public remarks with stories of real Americans.

“There’s a realization that they need to personalize the effort. There needs to be, in addition to talking about overall numbers, there has to be a change in the dynamic of how they communicate to the American people," said another meeting participant.

Republicans still face an uphill battle with the public. A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll, showed that 53 percent of those surveyed said that the GOP would lose the blame game while only 27 percent said the same of the president.

The meeting, organized by McCarthy's communications director Erica Elliott, included policy director Steve Pinkos and coalitions director Brian Worth. The Republican communicators who attended were: Ron Bonjean, Lisa Camooso Miller, Ken Spain, Molly Millerwise Meiners, Andrew Shore, Tony Fratto,
Greg Crist and Amos Snead.

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