A handful of Democratic House female members did an absurdly normal thing together one night last week: Instead of splintering off to fundraisers, the group of perennially vulnerable incumbents met for a laid-back dinner at a Thai restaurant on Barracks Row after evening votes.
For a couple of weeks every other December, the lame duck takes hold of (and relieves campaign obligations from) members of Congress. Some rush to pass last-minute legislation, while other lawmakers just catch a breath after having endured months of the campaign ringer.
"Shoulders are a little higher and cheek muscles are more agile ... The pressure of an election is off," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the outgoing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. "But if you're a good member of Congress, you're already figuring out how to plan for the next set of pressures."
There are fewer campaign events in December than the other periods Congress are in session, according to the Sunlight Foundation . The letup is primarily due to the fact donors are a tough crowd during the holidays. As a result, expectations are low for final quarter campaign reports.
A Republican operative involved in House races said party political leaders are not exactly "cracking the whip" on members — a reprieve that lasts for this month only.
"But [the members] know that it’s coming very quickly," the GOP operative said. "They're spending December like members should, thanking people. They'll hit the ground running in January."
"Thanking people" is a euphemism for a campaign strategy called "donor maintenance."
Even so, the rooms where politicians spend hours dialing for dollars are not completely empty this month.
"I always do call-time," Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., told CQ Roll Call during a recent vote series. "It never stops."
A national Democratic operative concurred: "Now is not the time to take your foot off the gas. Now is the time to show early strength."
The fundraisers that are taking place are of a different nature than the rest of the cycle.
There is the holiday-party-cloaked-as-a-fundraiser, such as Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey's "holiday lunch" last week. (Here's the invitation .)
And there are loose ends to tie up from November. House Republicans are on track to host at least two "debt retirement" fundraisers at the Capitol Hill Club for Reps.-elect Barbara Comstock of Virginia and John Ratcliffe of Texas, per the Sunlight Foundation.
Members also are throwing donor maintenance "Thank you parties." An invitation to a "Thank You Reception" for Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, D-La., underscores with asterisks: "We are not Requesting Contributions from 2014 Donors." Still, the next line states, "Please make checks payable to Richmond for Congress."
But more so than at any other point in the two-year term, members are concentrated on the mechanisms of the Hill.
"This is the week where the 'women are separated from the girls' as they say," a politically wired Democratic House member wrote in an email. "Can you bring your legislation in for a landing?"
The GOP operative similarly said the focus was on legislating. And for this person, it was avoiding political catastrophe for the new cycle.
"These two weeks are just getting this lame-duck session put to bed in a way that we don’t screw up," the Republican said.
Emily Cahn contributed to this report.
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