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As House Democrats welcomed their newest Member to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Republican leaders used a weekly closed-door meeting to reassure their troops amid growing frustration within the GOP Conference about the lack of party message and dismal election prospects for the fall.
Those who attended the Tuesday morning GOP Conference meeting described the mood as somber and depressing — a stark contrast to the reaction Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) received a week ago when he laid out for his colleagues the reasons why Republicans can win in November.
Three days after that presentation, Democrats won a special election in Louisiana, picking up a seat that had been in GOP hands for more than three decades.
Republicans’ mood was further dampened Tuesday when former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) released a scathing assessment of the state of affairs for Congressional Republicans — much of which amounts to an indictment of party leadership.
Gingrich wrote in a missive posted online that the loss in Louisiana on Saturday should serve as a “wake up call” for Republicans. Boehner also delivered that message at Tuesday’s Conference meeting.
“Either Congressional Republicans are going to chart a bold course of real change or they are going to suffer decisive losses this November,” Gingrich wrote.
Boehner said Gingrich is echoing the same message of change and reform that he has been pushing for months. He also sought to hammer home Tuesday that Republicans can’t win exclusively by tying Democrats to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his liberal views.
“Well, I agree with him — voters want change,” Boehner said. “And we need to be able to show voters that we want change.”
While Gingrich laid out nine “Acts of Real Change That Could Restore the GOP Brand,” Boehner has been leading an effort to refurbish the Republican Party’s image. Leaders have been saying for weeks that a rollout of the agenda is forthcoming, tentatively called “Reasons to Believe.”
“We have been clear over the past year that we have two jobs: defining the Democrats and defining ourselves,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “In the coming weeks, we will be laying out Republican policies that embody the sort of changes we need.”
Next week, Republicans plan to roll out a family initiative that has been spearheaded by GOP Conference Vice Chairwoman Kay Granger (Texas) and will include kitchen-table issues. But it is not a product of the rebranding effort, and the uncertain time frame for rolling out a broader unified message has frustrated some rank-and-file Members.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who represents the suburban Atlanta district Gingrich once did, acknowledged that Members agree with some of Gingrich’s sentiments.
“I think we all share that frustration,” Price said, adding that Republicans need to produce an agenda “sooner rather than later.”
“The challenge we have as a Conference is to coalesce behind one list,” Price said. “But do we need to produce that? Yes.”
Gingrich, who led the House GOP to power in the 1994 Republican revolution, also wrote that Republicans should convene an emergency Members-only meeting to frankly discuss their party’s course.