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The White House is struggling to win over Hill Democrats who crave more attention, question whether they fit into the administration's media strategy and believe they already are underused on the campaign trail with the 2012 elections kicking into full gear.
In front of the cameras, President Barack Obama has recently given Democrats what they've wanted all along: a call to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, to protect entitlements and to champion the middle class. But behind the scenes, Democrats say, administration officials have been quicker to relay information to the media than they have to Congress, and poor relations between White House legislative staff and Democratic Members have not helped matters.
The gap in communication between a president and Members of Congress in his own party is not uncommon. The lack of advance notice on the details of Obama's proposals can often be chalked up to a White House communications team wary of leaks. Some Democrats also said White House staff outreach was much better under former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — a former Representative — than it is under current Chief of Staff William Daley.
"Since Rahm left, the only way many of us hear anything is leadership goes down to the White House and they come back to Caucus and tell us what was said," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) noted. "But there's very little direct contact, very little outreach on any of the major issues we've been dealing with in this Congress. I would say it's either indifference or irrelevance or whatever. I don't know what the point is."
DeFazio particularly complained about the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, which is tasked with lobbying Members to vote with the president as well as with dealing with Member requests for administration action.
With the president's approval rating hovering in the low to mid-forties and with him traveling to swing states to push his jobs plan, some on the Hill believe it would behoove the administration to reach out and coordinate more with his friends in the Capitol.
Obama traveled Thursday to Ohio to promote his jobs bill during an event at Brent Spence Bridge, which spans the border of the Buckeye State and Kentucky. Sen. Sherrod Brown, also up for re-election in 2012, said he knew the administration had been considering the location for quite some time but did not learn of the final decision until it was reported. In a brief interview, the Ohio Democrat expressed some frustration that he couldn't help Obama in his own backyard.