Boehner Expands GOP Communications Plan

Posted April 10, 2009 at 5:39pm

With his conference struggling to get its message out, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has turned to a group of committee-level communications staffers to push the party’s case with voters.

The group has been meeting every Monday morning for several years to coordinate messaging strategies on legislation. But at the kickoff of the 111th Congress, Boehner called on them to significantly expand their portfolio.

“Since the beginning of the year, Leader Boehner has stressed using entrepreneurial insurgency’ tactics to communicate Republicans’ better solutions to the American people,— Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “The committee communicators are in the vanguard of that effort.—

Kim Smith, a spokeswoman for Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said the coordination between panels makes sense, saying it’s a natural response to dealing with the Democratic agenda.

“The issues we’re dealing with right now are so broad that it requires coordination on the part of committee press secretaries to deliver a strong message and, in Beltway terms, maintain public perception of your jurisdiction,— Smith said. “For me, spending time outside of work with the other committee press secretaries helped on the professional level of coordinating our message.—

She praised the level of involvement of the House Republican Conference, which has helped foster the relationships between committee staff, she said.

Matt Lloyd, spokesman for Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), said he frequently will ask a press secretary — whose committee has taken the lead on an important issue of the week — to speak to the rank-and-file communicators, so they too can spread the message to media outlets outside of Washington.

Lloyd said tapping into all of the party’s communication resources has been integral to getting their message to resonate.

“It’s important when you are trying to get the message out in the minority and don’t have the bully pulpit of the White House,— he said.

Ron Bonjean, former spokesman to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and who now runs Singer Bonjean Strategies, said that committee coordination is easier in the minority because ranking members tend to be much less concerned about turf.

“In the minority, they have the opportunity to take the time to plan with each other,— Bonjean said. “In the majority, each chairman feels that their jurisdiction is the most important.—

Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the importance of coordinating the conference message was stressed from the moment he was hired earlier this year.

“When Congressman Issa approached me about coming on board, he shared with me that Boehner has driven the point that part of our new role was to drive the message,— he said.

Bardella said the strategy coincides with the House Republican Conference coming to terms with being the minority party and assuming the role as the loyal opposition.

During the 110th Congress, Republicans were often unsure of their footing and suffered from an inability to keep their Members unified on message.

Lesson learned, said Bardella.

“I think they realized that if we were going to be successful in taking back the House, it was going to require this kind of coordination,— Bardella said.

In addition to the coordination in the House, leaders in both chambers have sought to do a better job of working together. And the effort is not limited to creating an aggressive communications team.

In the early days of the 111th Congress, Boehner’s office released a set of requirements that each ranking member’s Web site must meet. The list included basic tasks of promptly posting witness and Member statements as well as more complex ones of adding new media features such as feeds of content, an e-mail sign-up form and live streaming video of proceedings.

The increased use of YouTube as a tool to attack Democrats or catch them in embarrassing moments has also been adopted by the committees, giving GOP panel members a chance to raise their profiles if a witness or member misspeaks.

“Republican communicators are embracing social media and going directly to voters in ways we never could before,— said Ways and Means Committee Republican spokesman Jim Billimoria. “Constituents want to know what’s going on in Washington. By utilizing online media tools, we can deliver the latest news to them across multiple platforms and give them a virtual seat at the table.—

The Ways and Means Republicans are expected to launch their new Web site this week, Billimoria said.