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Senate Democrats Happy to Shun Spotlight, for Now

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Sen. Charles Schumer is leading Democrats’ messaging effort and a revamped communications war room in the 112th Congress.

Senate Democrats are used to being the center of attention, but for the first time in two years, they say they are content to take a back seat to the new House Republican majority.

With much of the media focused on the spectacle of the House’s transition of power from Democrats to Republicans, Senate Democrats, who retained power after the November elections, said they realize their agenda and plans for the 112th Congress are not the most interesting thing going on in Washington, D.C., right now. They seem content to let House GOP leaders continue to trip over themselves as they try to justify decisions that appear to go against their own stated goals of changing the way the chamber works.

“There’s no reason to step on the difficulties the Republicans are having in their opening week,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the newly installed chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center. “We will be focusing on a strong, pro-growth agenda that will help the middle class get ahead. But right now Republicans are dominating the news with their inconsistencies and promises that they can’t live up to. Part of our job is to underscore that.”

The message strategy is part of the newly merged Democratic communications and policy operations’ effort to take a more aggressive, proactive and campaign-like approach to the party’s public relations strategy. And aides said the new DPCC is trying to take advantage of the media’s concentration on the House.

On Tuesday, Jon Summers, the new communications director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), issued a statement blasting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for “laying the groundwork for Republicans’ extremist agenda” and for the GOP’s “hypocrisy on fiscal responsibility” in their push to repeal the 2010 health care reform law and add $143 billion to the deficit.

Indeed, Cantor had a rough first press conference as Majority Leader that day, with reporters asking him about Summers’ comments as well as why the Republicans’ plan for next week’s repeal vote appeared to break GOP campaign promises to reduce the deficit, have an open legislative process and allow amendments on the floor. 

Cantor, who seemed taken aback by the hostile questions, defended all three decisions, saying the original health care bill would not actually reduce the deficit and that the issue already had enough debate in the House during the 111th Congress.

He also dismissed the unfriendly fire from Senate and House Democrats.

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