Congressional Democrats got to hear from Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday — but perhaps most importantly, she got to hear from them.
The presidential candidate's visit to Capitol Hill was never really about making her case. The former first lady, New York senator and secretary of State already has overwhelming support among House and Senate Democrats, with many members either already supporting her or clearly leaning her way. Instead, Clinton's rounds were part of an ongoing courtship, a demonstration of her desire to engage with lawmakers and learn where they stand on issues of politics and policy. She wants members to be excited to work with her in the event she becomes president; in the meantime, she wants them to be eager to work to get her elected.
During a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus, members boasted of Clinton's interest in their various pet projects and legislative initiatives.
"I did mention to her the crisis we have in our country on savings, and retirement security, and happened to have on me my report, 'Building Better Savings, Building Brighter Futures,' and I asked her who I should give it to and then I handed it to her, so she now has my report," said House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York.
"I'm pleased part of her economic agenda she's going to roll out will include portions of the action plan I unveiled earlier this year," said Budget ranking member and Maryland Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen. "I hope down the road they'll take a close look at the proposals for a Wall Street trader fee and using the proceeds to increase tax relief for child care and working families."
At a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Clinton was briefed by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., who has a legislative proposal related to care giving. Emerging from Clinton's subsequent meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., likened a bill he introduced nearly a decade ago to Clinton's position that profitable companies share the fruits of success "with the people who help make them profitable."
Democrats from different points along the political spectrum were gratified by her rhetoric, suggesting it would play well across the party's base.
"I like that she said, 'You can't have growth without fairness and you can't have fairness without growth,'" said Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a progressive.
"She spoke about the need to link growth and opportunity, and I think that's a very important thing," said moderate Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., "because all too often in the Democratic dialogue it becomes a choice, and she made the point which is absolutely true is those two things have to move together."
Even Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had warm words for Clinton despite complaints over several months that the party establishment needed a consistent liberal champion — perhaps someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who progressives lobbied unsuccessfully to run for the White House in 2016.
"Members have kind of been crying in the wilderness for a while and now these issues like climate change, like income inequality, jobs agenda, they're resonating with the public and I think that Hillary understands that," said Grijalva.
"I'll put it like this: I even liked what she said about the Iran deal today," Ellison said of the nuclear agreement just announced by the Obama administration. "There have been times in the past I didn't think I saw eye to eye with her on that issue."
After their own meeting with Clinton Tuesday afternoon, Senate Democrats expressed confidence that their party's presidential front-runner is on a parallel track.
"You hear ... issues from her when she’s out on the stump that are pretty much identical with what progressives are saying in the caucus," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
"I think the agenda is pretty obvious. I don’t think we need to be deferring to one another on what it is," added Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. "The middle class is plainly in distress, the economy is plainly lopsided toward the people at the top, climate change is plainly an issue we have to face. As long as we’re all pulling in the same direction, that coordination becomes just a natural thing."
Democrats are looking for unity — a stark contrast with Republicans, who currently have a field of 15 candidates for president. Accordingly, Democrats on Tuesday were unwilling to weigh in on how their own congressional colleague, Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., fit into the equation.
The self-described socialist running on the Democratic ticket for president was considered a long shot for the nomination, but Sanders is being seen now as more of a threat than Clinton supporters might have anticipated. He, too has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill to share his vision with lawmakers.
"I've invited him, so he's going to come and make a presentation to us in the next few weeks," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., when asked by reporters if other Democratic candidates would be afforded similar opportunities to address congressional Democrats.
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