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Upbeat Retreat for House Democrats

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said President Barack Obama should touch on themes of bipartisanship in his State of the Union speech to solve fiscal problems but that he should also drive home the oft-repeated line that high-income earners should pay more in taxes.

Obama is likely to discuss those themes when he speaks privately to the House Democratic Caucus on Friday. Vice President Joseph Biden will deliver his own remarks to the group that same day. Before those keynotes, discussions at the Democrats' retreat will lean heavily on core policy issues that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and others have been preaching since the end of last year, when campaign finance and economic fairness dominated Democratic messaging.

According to the draft agenda, Member-led panels in Cambridge include "Ladies First: A Conversation on Advancing Women's Issues in 2012," "Budget Priorities and Defense Spending," "Seniors Task Force" and financial, health care and tax issues, among others.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will host a discussion on the "History of the Democratic Party: The Struggle for Rights," and Members will participate in numerous election-oriented discussions on messaging, polling and the use of new media.

SKDKnickerbocker Managing Director Anita Dunn and Media Talent 2.0 Inc. President Joel Silberman will also host media training sessions for Members on Thursday.

The Progressive Caucus held its own issues retreat in Baltimore last week, and the Blue Dog Coalition traveled to New York for a similar conference. But aides maintain that the divergent retreats do not signal disunity in the Caucus and that everyone is behind the effort to take back the majority in 2012. To that end, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) will offer their takes on the political landscape during a joint presentation today. Tonight's festivities are highlighted by an "American Voices Panel" that includes Paul Begala and the leaders of Democratic-leaning interest groups, while MSNBC host Ed Schultz will participate in a panel on Hoyer's "Make It in America" plan.

While Connolly said the panel discussions and presentations are helpful, the most valuable takeaway from an issues retreat might be to "let down our hair, relax a little bit and network," he said.

Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) agreed, adding, "For somebody who's relatively new like me, to have a leisurely beer with someone I don't know in the Caucus, it's just great for building relationships."

John Stanton contributed to this report.

Correction: Jan. 25, 2012

The print version of this story misidentified who is hosting a discussion on the “History of the Democratic Party: The Struggle for Rights.”

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