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House Democrats to Craft Agenda

Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra promises "top-notch speakers" for House retreat in Baltimore. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With House Republican leaders promising to go on offense this year, House Democrats will huddle in Baltimore starting Wednesday to contemplate the best defense. Which, naturally, is a good offense.  

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and Salman Khan, founder of an online education company, will provide keynote addresses to frame the caucus’s annual issues conference, which will also feature breakout sessions on LGBT equality, national security, criminal justice overhauls and trade, according to a copy of the agenda obtained by Roll Call. House Democrats, returning from a recess and a weekend blizzard, will remain in downtown Baltimore until Friday discussing policy and listening to a range of speakers, including "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah, Washington Post Editorial Cartoonist Tom Toles, author Simon Sinek, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer.  

“We've got top notch speakers lined up for dynamic policy discussions,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “The weather will not get in the way of our Caucus coming together.”  

The president and vice president, in the final year of their administration, are expected to help mold the Democrats’ legislative agenda for the coming year. At the White House on Tuesday, Obama and Biden met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to discuss ways to ensure that Democratic priorities are funded in appropriations measures, to overhaul the criminal justice system, to address Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and to curb opioid use.  

“The President and Leaders agreed that there is important business to get done this year, and the President looks forward to discussing these priorities with House Democrats at the Democratic Issues Conference on Thursday, and to working with the Democratic Leaders in the months ahead to deliver results to the American people," White House Deputy Press Secretary Jen Friedman said in a statement after the meeting.  

House and Senate Republicans came together two weeks ago in Baltimore and committed to spend much of their limited floor time between March and June or July voting on appropriations bills as they work toward a goal of passing all 12 bills for the first time in years. The Democratic retreat agenda does not include a specific session for discussing the fiscal 2017 appropriations process, but as in the GOP retreat, it could emerge as an underlying theme. Republicans have also expressed interest in criminal justice changes and the crisis with heroin and opioid addiction, providing opportunities for bipartisan legislation.  

A House Democratic aide told Roll Call members will use this year’s retreat to exchange ideas tied to policy initiatives, explore outside-of-the box ways to communicate their message and share a few laughs. The retreat theme of “United for Opportunity” will encourage members to build on past year retreat findings that members strengths come from standing united and working together, the aide said.  

The retreat also has scheduled times for members to socialize with one another and explore some of Baltimore’s tourist attractions with their families. The caucus has planned optional private tours of the Fort McHenry National Monument, Walters Art Museum or behind-the-scenes areas of the National Aquarium.

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