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Friction Strains Senate War Room

File Photo
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over responsibility for his caucus’s public relations to Sen. Charles Schumer earlier this year.

The DPCC, a merger of Reid’s press war room from the 111th Congress and the old Democratic Policy Committee, was created late last year in the wake of Conference discontent over the way the health care debate was handled and the subsequent results of the 2010 elections. The operation was designed to be run jointly by Reid and Schumer staff, plus aides to DPCC Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). But from the beginning, the DPCC has clearly been a Schumer operation.

Top Schumer aide Katie Beirne serves as DPCC staff director, with another top aide to the Senator, Brian Fallon, holding the title of DPCC chief spokesman. Jim Manley and Rodell Mollineau, who had been Reid’s top two communications operatives on Capitol Hill and in charge of the Majority Leader’s press war room, decided to leave earlier this year. Summers was essentially hired to replace them.

The DPCC was formed to help Senate Democrats achieve more message cohesion and remain on the offensive against Republicans after an election cycle in which the majority often felt outmaneuvered by the GOP.

The organization’s goal is to coordinate message and legislative strategy, provide Members with the tools that they need to communicate with voters and put Republicans on the defensive in their home states. The DPCC has moved in particular to bolster the political prospects of those Democrats on the ballot in 2012, making it a point to let them enjoy the press spotlight on subjects that could improve their electoral prospects.

The Democratic leadership aide said the mission of the DPCC is to “emphasize the caucus as a whole,” asserting that the Conference is generally pleased with the performance of the new war room, now in its seventh month of operation.

“If you surveyed the caucus, the overall impression would be that the messaging operation is more responsive, aggressive and Member-friendly than it’s ever been,” the leadership aide said.

But the DPCC has its critics, including some who view the operation simply as a Schumer vanity project that is being used as a means to acquire power. One Democratic strategist said pointedly that Summers’ exit from the DPCC was part of the continuing “Schumerization” of the war room.

“The war room just got ‘Schumed,’” the strategist said. “Schumer’s got the best of both worlds. He’s got more and more of a role in shaping the message, and he doesn’t have any of the responsibility and accountability that comes from being the leader.”

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