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House Democrats to Get SOTU Preview from Obama at Retreat

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Top House Democrats such as Pelosi were delighted Obama took a liberal turn after his re-election and are counting on him to stay on offense.

Schwartz noted that Obama’s leadership on big policy battles is the most important political help he can provide House Democrats and said a winning strategy is to keep the discussion on Democrats’ agenda rather than fights over the deficit defined by the GOP.

Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, said Democrats want Obama to remember the important role of the House minority on big issues, given the GOP’s narrow majority and fractured conference.

“I think our message would be on all these issues: Work closely with us. We’re a minority but a vital factor,” he said.

Levin added that coordination between the White House and congressional Democrats “needs to be and will be intensified.”

“On all of these issues, my judgment is working closely and effectively with him will increase our chances for taking back the House. Democratic votes in the House are going to be needed on every one of these issues. We’re going to actively shape the result on each of these issues,” he said.

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the committee’s “responsibility is to be focused on the midterm elections.”

“We’re going to be doing everything we can to help us win the House back and hold on to the Senate,” the Florida Democrat said. “The president has a good working relationship with the members and will continue to have one. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

On Wednesday, after introductory remarks by the retreat’s organizers, Democrats will begin a major panel on immigration moderated by Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California. Speakers include Angie Kelley from the Center for American Progress and Drew Westen, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University.

On Thursday, there are panels planned on gun control, electoral reforms and fiscal issues.

The gun control panel will be led by California Rep. Mike Thompson. Speakers include Anita Dunn, a former Obama spokeswoman; Amy Walter, an editor at National Journal, and Akhil Reed Amar, a professor at Yale.

Connecticut Rep. John B. Larson will moderate a panel on electoral changes titled “Strengthening Our Democracy.” Speakers include DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York; Wasserman Schultz; Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center for Justice; Voto Latino CEO Maria Teresa Kumar; and Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute.

The fiscal panel will be led by Levin and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, ranking member on the Budget Committee. Speakers include MIT professor Simon Johnson, Jim Kessler of Third Way, Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress and Tricia Neuman of the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation.

Senate Democrats are holding their own retreat this week in Annapolis, which Obama is scheduled to address Wednesday morning. The topics are similar, including the sequester, immigration and reducing gun violence.

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