Aug. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Democrats Feel Left in Dark

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Peter DeFazio (right) noted that there has been little contact or outreach from the White House to lawmakers on many major issues in Congress.

"They could do better when they're coming to our states, which they come to my state a lot," Brown said. "They could do better when they come to Ohio I don't want to sound whiny about this, so I'm reluctant to say much here, but I can help them with location and setup and all that. ... I wish they consulted us more, but that's not how they run the White House."

He added, "I think they fall a little short there."

Brown's situation is not unique. When asked whether such an occurrence was commonplace, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide lamented that calls to the White House about events were often met with opaque answers, if at any all.

"There's been a fair share of grumbling over the years over a lack of coordination in events in the state," the aide said. "You can find plenty of other Members' offices that will make that same complaint. ... Any routine call to the White House from the Hill to ask for advance info about events or whatever is usually met with vague generalities that fail to answer our questions."

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) added that White House outreach has been inconsistent and ill-timed, noting the legislative affairs team seems at times to have not done its homework before calling him to lobby him on issues.

"I've gotten few requests from the administration to vote their way," Rahall said. "On the issues I did not hear from them on, I did not have an early position announced. The one or two times they did come to me, I had already, I think, publicly expressed my opinion. I was with them anyway."

In July, the president basically worked around Hill Democrats to strike a deal with Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to avert a default on the nation's debt.

Still, some Members said they had positive working relationships with the White House and its legislative affairs staff.

"During health care [reform], in particular, I worked very closely with them to make sure that many concerns that different Members raised were promptly addressed," Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said. "I will say they've been dealt kind of a tough hand. The executive branch is a big organization."

Plus, Democrats' reaction to Obama's deficit reduction plan last Monday would have been even more positive had they known what was in it before Obama hit the airwaves.

By most accounts, Members and staffers on the Hill were not briefed on the details of the president's $4.4 trillion plan until after it was discussed with reporters that Sunday night, published and then outlined in Monday's speech. Critics said that left the door open to news stories the following day that Republicans were united against the plan while Democrats were divided on how to proceed.

"We have a tendency to read what the president sends before reacting so it takes us a little bit longer," quipped Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) when asked whether Democrats are struggling to unite around a message when information isn't flowing to the Hill in advance.

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