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As GOP Ascends, Liberal Activists Ponder

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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.

In the upcoming session, Miller said NARAL will be lobbying the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House to prevent House Republicans from inserting anti-abortion provisions into major bills.

Miller acknowledged that there is a different landscape in the House than in the past two years. NARAL has estimated that the recent midterm elections resulted in a net gain of 42 anti-abortion lawmakers.

To galvanize its membership, NARAL has launched a public relations campaign focusing on the record of Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio), who the group says has voted against abortion rights on 142 occasions.

Even before the Republicans were slated to take control, the abortion rights movement suffered a defeat. Just before the lame-duck Congress adjourned in December, the Democratic leadership agreed to a defense authorization measure that did not include a provision sponsored by former Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) that would have allowed women to pay for abortions performed by military personnel.

Other groups are hoping to advance their agenda by looking beyond Capitol Hill.

“It doesn’t make much sense to go to Congress and try and get any legislation,” said Tony Kreindler, a spokesman on climate change for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Environmental groups will focus on the actions of executive agencies, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in the process of developing regulations to curb greenhouse gases, Kreindler said.

But with even a Democratic-controlled Congress unable to pass comprehensive energy legislation, Kreindler said his group is now trying to “change the conversation outside of Washington.”

He said the strategy in the next several years is for environmentalists to reach out to key constituencies such as those involved in agriculture and transportation policy to reach consensus on how to reverse global warming.

Gay rights groups, who scored a major victory when the lame-duck Congress repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring openly gay service members, are not expecting a repeat of that success in 2011.

Instead, groups such as the Human Rights Campaign will be focusing heavily on efforts in the states to enact gay marriage laws as well as encouraging more private companies to provide domestic partner benefits.

Not all progressive groups view the new Congress as a setback.

Chad Ramsey, the federal legislative director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control group, said there may be more opportunities to forge alliances in the upcoming session.

He said many of the Democrats who lost in the recent election were gun rights advocates who were endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

On the other hand, some of the incoming Republicans elected in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania may be open to some gun control legislation such as tightening gun show loopholes, he said.

But Ramsey also said the new House Republican leaders are likely to push through measures that would weaken the authority of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It is not a rosy picture. But it wasn’t last time either.”

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