When President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress about his jobs agenda today, Democrats hope it will also renew a relationship between the White House and a Democratic caucus that has felt largely ignored by an administration worried about its own re-election.
Over the past several weeks, leadership in both the House and Senate have pushed Obama and his team not only to coordinate more with his fellow Democrats but to stand with them in their efforts to attack Republicans for opposing their policy ideas.
“They tend to hold the details fairly close,” one Senate Democratic leadership aide said. And while that might be understandable to avoid leaks, “at the same time, we’re your friends on this and we ought to be singing from the same hymnal,” the aide added.
And while the White House has made some attempts at responding to Democratic concerns, Democrats remain skeptical.
“I think that’s the hope, but it remains to be seen,” the Senate aide said.
“Folks hope that they realize that more engagement and coordination is needed,” the aide added.
Still, there have been indications that changes are on the way, Democrats said. Obama made a series of personal calls to Democratic leaders Tuesday and Wednesday, and senior administration officials were reaching out to ranking members in the House and chairmen in the Senate.
According to aides, while neither Obama nor his team were giving out details on the speech, the White House was asking Members what they would like to hear, and it appeared last-minute tweaks were being made to reflect those discussions.
The White House this week also indicated that it would present actual legislation to Congress — something the Obama administration has rarely done and which will give Democrats something to rally around.
The White House agenda is also likely to track closely with the agendas of House and Senate Democrats.
Senate Democrats, for instance, had planned to bring a highway construction measure to the floor this fall, as well as legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and the expiring payroll tax cut. And while that schedule might be tweaked to add a teacher pay bill or other proposals from the speech, Obama’s plan “matches pretty closely to the things we’re looking at,” the Senate aide said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) agreed, saying Wednesday that “we have focused on our ‘Make It In America’ agenda [and] it’s my expectation the president will be mentioning the phrase ‘Make It In America’ tomorrow.”
The renewed focus on jobs will suit House Democrats, who since late spring have been arguing that Republicans’ focus on fiscal austerity has come at the expense of addressing the unemployment rate.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.