Before Departing, a Message
Both Sides in the Senate Prepare for Memorial Day Exit
With Congress entering the home stretch before the Memorial Day recess, Senate Republican and Democratic leaders are aiming to use the next two weeks to prep their Members for an extended visit to their home states by using the Senate floor and events to roll out their messages and to frame key economic issues.
Both parties appear ready to hit on similar themes — economic issues and the lack of action on bills and nominations before the Senate — as a prelude to home-state messaging by Members.
Republicans will focus on gas prices, Democratic objections to the Colombia free-trade agreement and the backlog of federal judicial nominations, GOP leadership aides said Monday, and will use a mix of approaches to drive home the message — to their own Members and the public.
“It’s a determined effort to hit back at them and undermine their attempt to make it our fault that nothing is getting done,” one aide said.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) has begun urging his Members to use the daily cost of gas or the number of days a nominee from their home state has been pending before the Senate as part of their floor speeches and other public remarks. His office this week also will circulate a memo with a series of bullet points outlining what they see as the failings of the Democratic-led Senate that aides and Members can use in crafting their messages.
Titled “Democratic Leadership’s Mismanagement Of Congress has Consequences for the American People,” the document is something of a message cheat sheet, providing numbers such as “31: Number of judicial nominations held up in the Senate, including 10 court of appeals nominees and 21 district court nominees.”
“Gas prices are sky-high, the House has stalled the pro-America Colombia trade agreement, terrorist surveillance reform is months past due, nominations are in limbo, and all Democrats want to do is hold up posters on the Senate floor listing the number of so-called filibusters. This is not a winning strategy. Republicans are focusing on the issues, and we’re encouraging Democrats frustrated with their leadership to join us to get things done,” Senate Republican Conference spokesman Ryan Loskarn said.
Aides also said Republicans will hold events over the next two weeks on these issues. For instance, Alexander spoke Monday at the Brookings Institution on energy issues, and Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.) spoke there later in the day on the need for the Colombia trade deal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also is looking to keep nominations on the front burner. Although not a hot-button issue for average voters, the topic of judges has long been a major one for the GOP’s base, and McConnell this week will begin pushing Democrats to take up the nomination of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Conrad to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
A senior Democratic leadership aide said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office will begin meetings this week with Members to lay the groundwork for their recess message, which likely will focus on efforts to connect President Bush to Congressional Republicans by highlighting “the blight of the economy under the Bush Republicans over the last seven years.” According to this aide, barring a veto of the upcoming supplemental, Reid and his fellow Democrats will make gas prices and the housing crisis centerpieces of their economic argument.
Democrats also are expected to continue their attacks on what they view as a systematic effort by Republicans to block legislation from moving through the chamber, a messaging tactic they say has produced some success in recent weeks.
Although Democratic aides would not provide details on their message strategy, they did acknowledge that in addition to the filibuster issue and linking Republicans to Bush’s economic policies, they also will continue to take aim at several of their signature policy proposals, including the GOP’s renewed push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“To go home and make the case that if we had more conservative judges and drilling in ANWR then everything would be all right … I don’t think their constituents are going to buy it,” a Reid aide said.