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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) begins almost every press conference with the phrase, “The American people are still asking: Where are the jobs?”
What ensued last week, however, were questions about a range of other topics, for instance presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s tax returns and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) widely maligned warning that Islamic fundamentalists had infiltrated the government.
Indeed, House Republican leaders had some trouble staying on message amid the noise, with topics both parties called sideshows dominating the news narrative.
When Members return today, it’s also possible that the Colorado shootings and their painful aftermath will be echoing through the halls. Some aides said they could imagine a push for discussion of gun control in the days ahead.
“This is a terrible tragedy for all Americans. It is too soon to tell what effect, if any, it will have on the House schedule and agenda,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
Still, Members and aides said this week’s push for eased government regulations and next week’s vote on extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts should help shift the focus back to jobs and the economy, where the GOP would like it to be.
During much of last week, Boehner and other GOP communicators expressed frustration at where public debate had gone.
“Americans are asking, ‘Where are the jobs’? They’re not asking where in the hell the tax returns are,” Boehner said last week. “This is another sideshow intended to draw the American people’s attention away from the real issue, and the real issue is that the president’s economic policies have failed.”
With President Barack Obama’s campaign seemingly ready to bump the favored GOP narrative off course at every turn, Rep. Tom Cole conceded that it can be difficult to break through with a strictly “jobs and the economy” message.
“It is, but look at the presidential level, that’s clearly President Obama’s campaign trying to throw people off the message,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “Any time we’re not talking about jobs and the economy, the deficit and spending, we’re probably not talking about the right thing.”
No matter what comes out of left field, however, the narrative always sways back to the economy — the most prominent issue in voters’ minds, he said.