Obama Talks Policy, Politics With Democrats

Posted July 29, 2008 at 6:58pm

On a day that was overshadowed by the indictment of a prominent GOP Senator, House Democratic lawmakers huddled with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Tuesday evening in a bid to solidify their coordination in the runup to the August recess and the national convention in Denver.

One spectator donning a pink crown cheered for “the peace candidate” during the glimpse of Obama heading into the meeting. Once inside, loud applause could be heard from within the closed Caucus meeting, which lasted just under an hour.

The buzz surrounding Obama’s first visit with House Democrats lost some of its edge during the day as other news took center stage: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was indicted on seven counts of failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged gifts from an oil services company.

Obama spoke briefly after the meeting to reporters, saying he hoped not only to get elected himself, but to expand the Democrats’ House and Senate majorities. Obama pledged if elected to collaborate not only with Democrats, “but also some like-minded Republicans.”

Obama was introduced before speaking to the press by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who appeared ecstatic and said House Democrats had vowed their “support and commitment” to the presumptive nominee.

And despite the sensational news on the other side of the Capitol, Democratic lawmakers emerging from the meeting appeared generally energized.

Obama was “outstanding,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (Fla.) said. But “overall, it was too much policy, too little politics. … My take is that we didn’t talk enough about how to win an election.”

“The man knows policy,” Hastings added.

Fresh off the plane after a trip to the Middle East, Obama told Democrats they “are mistaken” if they think negotiations with Iran are going to get easier under his administration, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) said.

Asked what lawmakers can do to help with campaigning, Obama pointed to “a number of states that have not been in play since 1964, and there’s only one of him,” Berkley said.

In other words, Berkley explained, lawmakers in red states — meaning they have voted Republican in presidential elections — can help by trying to “make them purple.” Blue states are ones that trend Democratic in national elections.

Obama said one of his first acts in the White House would be to have his attorney general “go over all executive orders” put through by the Bush administration, Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said.

Slaughter said Obama did not specify what action he would take, but said he pledged to weed out “things that are anti-Democratic and bad for the country.”

Obama did not mention signing statements being part of the review process, Slaughter noted, but Democrats will push to add those to the mix.

Blue Dog co-Chairman Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said the meeting consisted largely of questions from Members, and Obama touched on nearly every issue one would expect, including transportation, energy, health care and the economy.

Obama “discussed in some detail” fiscal responsibility, Ross said, but nothing specific.

Earlier in the day, two of Obama’s top political strategists met privately with Senate Democrats to coordinate their message strategies for the next five weeks.

At the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Obama senior adviser Jim Margolis and top pollster Joel Benenson vetted the party communications’ blueprint for the coming weeks. Sources said the strategy will put a particular focus on the economy and energy.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said the meeting is one of several to come between lawmakers and senior aides to Obama’s campaign. Campaign manager David Plouffe and chief strategist David Axelrod both have in recent weeks met with Senate Democrats.

“We want to make sure we use the next five weeks to our best advantage,” the Senate Democratic aide said. “Having a coordinated, unified message allows us to do so.”

For their part, Republicans called on Obama to use his influence to pressure Democratic leaders into allowing votes on offshore drilling. Otherwise, they say, he risks being associated with the “failure of leadership” by Pelosi and Reid.

Obama is the “titular head of the Democratic Party,” said one House GOP aide, and the failure by Congress to hold an up-or-down vote on drilling in an effort to bring down gas prices “falls squarely on him.”

Keith Koffler and Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.