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Pelosi Encourages Her Committee Eyes and Ears

Tom Williams/Roll Call

Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi called together the newly selected top Democrats on House committees late last week for what one lawmaker described as a closed-door “pep talk” as they head into the minority.

“Like the coach of a team giving the end-of-the-half pep talk to his players and getting them fired up to go back out for the second and most important half,” Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.) said. Most of the ranking members were selected last week, and Rahall was chosen as the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the 112th Congress.

Pelosi is being forced to surrender the Speaker’s gavel after Democrats lost 63 seats in the Nov. 2 midterm elections, and during the Friday meeting she delivered “a real pep talk about pushing for those things that we fought hard for during this last session, that we hold dear,” Rahall said.

A senior leadership aide said Pelosi views the committee structure as a way to harness Democrats’ strength in the minority.

“There is a wealth of talent with the ranking members,” the leadership aide said. “But also each Democratic member serves on a committee. So it’s an opportunity for Democrats on a committee to differentiate themselves from Republicans.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the incoming ranking member on the Budget Committee, said Pelosi announced that she would meet regularly with top committee Democrats “to get their input on what was happening in committees and to talk about various issues and priorities that they might have.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), who will be the ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Pelosi and other top Democrats understand that the party needs to retool its messaging operation to better counter Republicans.

“We have to make sure the Republican message doesn’t drown out our message,” he said. “We have to be better at messaging, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Cummings said Democrats had one of the most productive Congresses in history, but the Republican message machine was able to twist their actions against them.

“It’s one thing to do good things, it’s a whole ’nother thing for people to know you did good things,” Cummings said.

Pelosi also talked about using technology to better coordinate Democratic messaging efforts among committees and subcommittees, Rahall said. Pelosi left the impression that the Republicans’ majority would be short-lived and encouraged the Democrats to keep their eyes and ears open for any mistakes that Republicans “no doubt will make,” he added.

A senior Democratic aide said Pelosi, who followed up Friday’s meeting by sitting down with committee staff directors, pointed to the Budget, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means panels as central to an enhanced communications effort.

“She is developing a plan to strengthen the communications operation within the Caucus,” the aide said. “I think she is going to have a much closer relationship with the new ranking members, who will be her eyes and ears out there. Also, more importantly she will use them to help develop opportunities for Democrats to put Republicans on the defense.”

Rep. Sander Levin, who will transition from Ways and Means chairman to the panel’s ranking member, said Pelosi made clear that she wanted to work with panel Democrats to protect policies, such as health care, that they instituted during their time in power.

“There’s going to be a common, concerted effort to get out the truth. ... The facts about health care, the facts about all of these that have been historic,” the Michigan Democrat said. “So we’re anxious for the fight.”

Steven T. Dennis and Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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