Washington’s political and lobbying scene, which is ordinarily abuzz with activity this time of year as lawmakers get to work in the new Congress, largely took a pause this week in response to the shootings in Arizona.
Fundraising was postponed, K Street welcome receptions for new Members put off, health care campaigns delayed and even a local political trivia night canceled as lobbyists, lawmakers and the Capitol Hill community responded to the weekend’s killings and attempted assassination on a Member.
“Whether it’s a birthday or a fundraiser or a welcome reception, it doesn’t seem in good taste when there are people who have gone through a tragedy and are grieving,” said Monica Notzon, a GOP fundraiser.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it was postponing all political events, fundraisers and communications regarding health care reform as a result of the shooting, which left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) critically injured and six others dead.
One canceled event is a reception this evening at Tortilla Coast hosted by the political action committee of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of centrist lawmakers to which Giffords belongs.
Democratic fundraiser Mike Fraioli said that his clients would not be making phone calls soliciting campaign contributions this week, either.
“People are in a reflective mood. They are focusing on the tragedy at hand,” he said.
The Democratic strategist likened the pause to the period after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when most political activity ceased. As in 2001, Fraioli said, individual lawmakers will decide when they feel comfortable resuming their routine activities.
Some trade groups and industry lobbyists were also taking a break from their normal beginning-of-session schmoozing with Members. Restaurant interests postponed a welcome reception planned for freshmen and other friends that was scheduled for today.
“Given the circumstances, we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Jeff Pannozzo, director of government affairs in the Washington, D.C., office of Yum Brands Inc., the parent company of several fast-food chains including A&W, KFC, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
Yum Brands planned to host the reception at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar along with the National Restaurant Association and several chains including Outback, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The event is expected to be rescheduled for Feb. 8, when Congress will likely be back in session.
While lobbyists and other officials said they canceled their events out of respect for the victims and their families, they are also pragmatically readjusting their schedule because there will be little activity on Capitol Hill this week. House leaders canceled the week’s legislative agenda, including a repeal of the health care law, after the shootings.
A planned Wednesday fundraiser for Rep. Kristi Noem, a newly elected Republican from South Dakota, “was in flux,” according to spokesman Joshua Shields.
Shields cited the tragedy and “the fact there aren’t any votes this week” for the change.
Health Care for America Now, a coalition of union and progressive groups that campaigned for the new health care law, had planned more than 50 events around the country, many in swing districts held by Republicans, to put pressure on those lawmakers to reject the repeal effort. But Executive Director Ethan Rome said those campaign-style events have been postponed until a new vote is scheduled.
“Congress has paused and is not taking up the issue,” he said. Rome added that the decision to put off those events also reflected “a sense of when it is appropriate to campaign given the horrific events of the weekend.”
HCAN worked with Giffords, whose support for the health care measure sparked opposition within her district. On the night the health care reform law was passed last March, a window was smashed in the Congresswoman’s Tucson office.
The heated debate did not end with the law’s enactment.
There has been intense lobbying over its repeal, with the National Restaurant Association on Friday putting out an “urgent” call to action asking its members to press lawmakers to support the repeal.
Political groups also put the brakes on advertising planned for the week in pivotal states.
The conservative American Future Fund shelved a planned ad campaign targeting Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
“We have changed some plans,” AFF leader Nick Ryan told Roll Call in an e-mail. “We had a two-week buy in North Dakota, and the ad is not running this week.”
In the past week, the AFF and the liberal group Commonsense Ten had already begun sparring over the North Dakota airwaves about Conrad’s record as a fiscal conservative.
The National Republican Congressional Committee also is in a holding pattern, waiting on its work related to the repeal measure until legislative business resumes.
Not all activity has come to a halt.
Republican National Committee members said they still planned to attend the annual RNC meeting this week. On Friday, the party will hold elections for the chairmanship and other positions.
The BP oil spill commission is still scheduled to deliver its final report at the National Press Club today about the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
And U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue will still make his annual “State of American Business” address this morning at chamber headquarters.
A chamber spokesman said Donohue will reference the weekend shootings at the beginning of his remarks. The spokesman also referred to a blog entry by Tom Collamore, the chamber’s senior vice president for communication and strategy, who called the shootings “reprehensible.”
“We are praying for the full recovery of Congresswoman Giffords and the others who were injured,” Collamore wrote. “And our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives.”
Tricia Miller and Kyle Trygstad contributed to this report.