With Republican poll numbers falling and the nation focusing increasingly on domestic policy, House Democrats are feeling new political confidence and taking on a rare offensive posture against the GOP.
Through mid-August, Democrats were feeling emboldened as public confidence dipped in the U.S. handling of the Iraqi conflict, Social Security reform and Congressional ethics. Then Hurricane Katrina brought mounting questions about the Bush administration’s response to the disaster.
“Hurricane Katrina has certainly changed the political landscape in the short term,” said one Democratic leadership aide. “Whether it does in the long term is another question.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was the first to call on Congress to return to session early to pass a relief package for the disaster area and led her party’s call for Michael Brown, the then-director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to step aside.
Democrats were also quick to call for Congressional hearings and for a push back on the regular agenda to make room for Katrina-related legislation.
This week, Pelosi will lead the Democratic assault once again, scheduling at least three events on key issues on which Democrats charge the GOP has faltered. Democrats also will continue to raise questions about the Republican management of the federal government at a time when many Americans are looking for assistance.
Pelosi and other leaders will reiterate their call for the creation of a nonpartisan, independent commission to investigate the hurricane response, to urge creation of an independent anti-fraud panel to ensure proper oversight of the contracts awarded for the relief effort and to decry price gouging in the wake of rising fuel costs. The party also will announce the creation of a Democratic relief package for the victims of the hurricane.
One senior Democratic staffer said that Democrats feel not only that they are in a position to stake out some political ground, but that Pelosi is actually being heard.
“There are some opportunities here,” said the aide. “The president’s numbers are at an all-time low. We are showing that we can lead, and that we’re the ones who are listening.”
The latest polling by Newsweek Magazine shows President Bush’s job approval rating at 38 percent, and reports that just 28 percent are satisfied with the way things are going. It also showed hopeful numbers for Congressional Democrats, with 50 percent of Americans preferring Democratic candidates versus 38 percent for Republicans.
The same survey also showed that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, 57 percent of Americans have lost confidence in the government’s ability to handle another disaster.
One top Republican House staffer said the GOP acknowledges that the mood of the country is not high given the war, Katrina and gas prices. But the staffer said that Republicans will rebound by passing legislation to help the victims, rebuild the Gulf Coast and bolster fuel supplies.
“If we can show we are working to solve the problems, we will regain our ground,” the aide said. “There are some real opportunities.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.