Cambridge, Md. — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi insisted that her House Democrats weren't gathered here for a retreat to discuss politics.
"What we're here to do this week is to talk policy," she told reporters who asked her predictions for Election Day.
But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York went right at the politics and the news Rep. Gary G. Miller is retiring. Israel said Democrats will be asking their Republican colleagues again and again before November, "Whose side are you on?"
"Gary Miller ... decided he was on the wrong side and jumped ship," Israel continued of the California Republican Rep. who announced his retirement earlier in the day. "He knows you cannot continue to defend the indefensible. You can't continue to defend the wrong priorities and the wrong values in front of the American people."
Israel told reporters covering the House Democrats' annual retreat that kicked off on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency resort that the question would be the dominant theme.
"On every one of [these] issues -- rising wages, pay equity, immigration reform, a fair tax code -- we're on the side of the American people," Israel said Wednesday evening.
The stated theme of the Democrats' two-and-a-half-day "Issues Conference" is "Strengthening Ladders of Opportunity," and lawmakers have a packed schedule of symposiums, speeches and strategy sessions focused on crystalizing policy positions around that theme.
"Within 100 hours of a new Congress, if we had a new majority, we would do these things," said House Budget Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also not ducking politics.
Pelosi and other leaders at the press conference said they were "buoyed," in the words of Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, by the events of the past 24 hours.
Then, President Barack Obama — who will address House Democrats in Cambridge on Friday — signed an executive order Wednesday to increase the minimum wage for new federal contractors.
It all adds up to an equation that gives Democrats new confidence that they can forge ahead and make tangible headway on advocating for certain legislative priorities on the House floor, despite the Republican majority.
"Let us hope that the Republicans want to work with the president and with us to make sure that we can make it in America, that women do better, that America will do better, that we invest in our people and grow an economy so that everybody can make it in America," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.
House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York said he hoped that the "watershed" bipartisanship of the Tuesday debt ceiling vote signaled a newfound willingness to work with Democrats to put bills on the floor that, if given a chance, could have overwhelming support from members of both parties.
But Crowley wasn't optimistic: "I'm not holding my breath."