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NJ Daily / HOUSE

Democrats Retreat, Reload for 2012

Camp counselor: Pelosi coaches House Dems at annual conference.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

photo of Billy House
January 25, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Md.--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday went so far as to endorse President Obama’s reelection strategy of bashing Congress, but some closed-door discussions among House Democrats gathered here reflect concern that their own reelection chances might get caught in the White House cross fire with Republicans.

“What’s important is what the danger is to the American people of a continuation of a Republican 'Do-Nothing' Congress,” said Pelosi, appearing with other House Democratic leaders to speak with reporters on the second day of the their caucus’s annual issues and political strategy retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“And I think it’s not only OK for the president to run against a Do-Nothing [Congress]—I encourage it; it’s essential to the well-being of the American people. First and foremost, this isn’t about politics,” Pelosi said. “It’s about the American people. I think he’s doing the exact right thing, and I support him.”

 

The three-day conference culminates on Friday in keynote addresses by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. While Pelosi and her fellow Democrats seek to project a steely confidence that if they don’t take back their chamber’s majority this fall, they certainly will make major inroads, some worry about taking friendly fire when Obama and his surrogates verbally attack Congress.

Breakout topics for one panel discussion on "managing the message in 2102" include “Navigating in and around the president’s messaging—when does he help and when does he hurt?” ; others are “How to run when the president is running against Congress” and “Balancing the administration’s record with Republican obstructionism.”

Nonetheless, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut, the retreat’s official host, spoke bullishly. Democrats must gain 25 seats in November to reclaim the stewardship they lost in 2010’s midterm drubbing.

“We do think we are going to take back the majority,” Larson said, shortly after arriving at the posh Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday afternoon. Joining Larson and Pelosi at the “reigniting the American Dream” retreat are about 100 other colleagues, most of whom arrived via a bus motorcade from the Capitol.

Members will focus on legislation as well. They have a slew of policy workshops, ranging from how to talk to seniors about last year’s Republican budget devised by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to how to deal with charges that the Affordable Care Act slashed Medicare or worries that the Social Security trust fund is going bankrupt.

But the undercurrent of it all is how best to regain a Democratic House majority, highlighted by private political sessions such as one planned with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York.

Democrats are genuinely upbeat about their prospects in November, although they are concerned about Congress’s record low approval ratings and Obama’s reelection strategy—bash Congress—and its potential effect on their own reelection chances.

They also see opportunity in Obama’s approach. With the public blaming Republicans more than Democrats or Obama for last year’s near-government shutdowns and debt-ceiling standoffs, the president using the bully pulpit to blame Republicans for Washington’s stalemate isn’t all bad, they figure.

“Us vs. Them: Contrasting Republican failures with Democratic achievements,” hosted by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., is another retreat session.

The conference got off to a fast start on Wednesday afternoon, in pep-rally fashion, when Pelosi addressed members to underscore that they are the party “committed to the middle class, jobs, and fairness,” according to a senior Democratic aide who was in the room. The group reportedly gave Obama major props for Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Pelosi also turned to the issue of campaign finance—that is, she encouraged members to support legislation known as the Disclose Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. She told members: “We can’t have fairness in our economic system unless we have fairness in our political system.”

The opening day culminated on Wednesday night with a panel discussion designed to reflect “American voices” on “jobs and American priorities” and featuring a wide-ranging cast moderated by Democratic strategist-turned-commentator Paul Begala.

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