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House Democrats Appear Energized as Leaders Lay Out Plan for Caucus

Chris Kleponis/Pool/Getty Images
Obama made an appearance at the House Democratic Caucus retreat in Virginia on Thursday, where he addressed the caucus, then took questions from members.

LEESBURG, Va. — The mood among House Democrats these days — gathered for what amounts to an annual party pep rally — does a good job of masking their status as the least relevant caucus on Capitol Hill.

That was evident when President Barack Obama delivered a “keep up the good fight” speech Thursday at the minority party’s issues retreat here at the Lansdowne Resort, touching on the continued fiscal fight, immigration and guns.

Ironically, the guns issue, which leaders haven’t wanted to touch for years, is a key plank uniting the party. It’s also a primary focus of the three-day confab, despite the hurdles it faces in the House, where Republicans decide which bills come to the floor.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi unveiled proposals from a House Democratic task force Thursday that mirror Obama’s ideas on the subject, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. delivered an emotional address on the topic Wednesday evening.

Included in the House plan is a far-reaching ban on assault weapons, which will have difficulty passing the Senate, let alone the GOP-controlled House.

But compared with other caucus retreats across the chambers, the mood among House Democrats seems to be the most optimistic.

“This is very upbeat. The election results very much energized us. The people really did speak. It’s very different, and we’ll see how much the Republicans react to the difference,” Michigan Rep. Sander M. Levin said.

But in a notable sign of party divisiveness on gun issues, one of the task force’s vice chairmen, Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan, released a statement expressing “serious and honest concerns” about some of the proposals.

Obama is expected to address the gun control issue, and possibly those concerns, in his State of the Union address next week. He told House Democrats Thursday that the theme will be the “bedrock notion that our economy succeeds and our economy grows when everybody’s getting a fair shot and everybody’s getting a fair shake.”

Undergirding Democratic optimism on guns, immigration and upcoming spending battles is a hope that Obama can force the House GOP to buckle under unrelenting political pressure.

Addressing the sequester, Obama told House Democrats that he is “more than willing” to stare down the GOP on whether legislation to replace the cuts should include tax increases as well as replacement spending cuts.

Obama told the caucus in a closed-door question-and-answer session that a key factor in the party winning battles on the issue will be making a public case in campaign-style events around the country, Levin said.

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