Liberal groups such as the Yes Men, who staged a protest over global warming at the Capitol, are having to reconsider their activism strategy now that Republicans control the House.
Liberal groups who had finally been able to nudge some of their issues to the forefront on Capitol Hill in recent years are being forced to readjust their strategies as they brace for an onslaught of conservative activism in the new Congress.
With the GOP in charge of the House and with greater numbers in the Senate, these advocacy groups are likely to find themselves again on the defensive on issues such as abortion, gay rights, gun control, immigration and the environment.
As a result, the lobbyists for such advocacy organizations predict they will be bulking up their communications and grass-roots operations, as well as carefully scrutinizing legislation coming out of the House. They also will have to prod the Senate and the White House not to compromise with House Republicans on hot-button social issues.
“Everybody needs to go back to the drawing board to ensure that the strategy they have makes sense given the new configuration,” said Robert Raben, a Democratic lobbyist whose firm, the Raben Group, represents groups focused on gun control, immigration and gay rights.
Raben said liberal activists who have largely relied on Democrats to carry out their agenda need to reach out to Republican moderates to build new coalitions for their issues. He also said they will have to “bump up” their message game to counter the conservative rhetoric from Capitol Hill.
Even with a Democratic president and strong majorities in Congress in 2009 and 2010, liberal groups didn’t succeed in pushing through all of their priorities on Capitol Hill, such as mandating a public option in the health care law or passing the immigration measure known as the DREAM Act. But they have still often had access to influential committee chairmen and were able to thwart efforts to further hurt their causes.
Now these activists will have precious little time to regroup, as House Republicans are expected to almost immediately take up appropriations measures likely to be sprinkled with language that could very well rescind or restrict more liberal policies enacted in the past two years.
“They will have to be very, very vigilant,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist and partner with Elmendorf Ryan. Elmendorf said the bigger problem for the groups is not stand-alone bills but omnibus budget measures and continuing budget resolutions.
A defensive posture is not new to the liberal community, which spent much of the past decade seeing its priorities get sidetracked by a Republican president and GOP majorities in the House and Senate.
“There was no firewall at all,” said Ted Miller, spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
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.