Democrats Stay Nearby for Conference

Posted January 12, 2010 at 6:05pm

House Democrats scrambled to retool plans for their annual issues conference — set to kick off today — after military officials nixed holding it at Fort McNair.

The military apparently objected to the fact that Democratic lawmakers would use the more than 200-year-old Army post, situated about two miles south of the Capitol, for a partisan event.

Instead, Democrats will huddle even closer to home. The conference opens today with a political briefing already scheduled to take place at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters. Most of the rest of the program will now unfold at the Capitol Visitor Center.

“Basically, there were certain elements of the event that Fort McNair thought would be better suited for the CVC,— said Emily Barocas, spokeswoman for Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), who is charged with organizing the confab.

Democratic leaders decided Dec. 1 to scrap their annual retreat, held for the past five years at an upscale Virginia spa, in favor of a scaled-down event in town focused on creating jobs. But top aides said they only learned in recent days that military officials were raising concerns about Democrats gathering at Fort McNair.

Several senior Democratic aides said the last-minute venue change probably wouldn’t have a big affect on attendance at the event, either positively or negatively, since it only involves moving it up the road.

But they agreed the scramble amounted to an embarrassment for event planners, chiefly Larson.

“How did we book it in the first place?— one said. “It just seems like the people responsible for this didn’t do their homework.—

Another defended the Connecticut Democrat, saying officials at Fort McNair initially OK’d the event only to reverse themselves “at the last minute.—

“This is no reflection on Larson,— the aide said. “It was just an issue with planning, and the retreat will move ahead without a problem. We still have a great program, and that’s what people come for, not the venue.—

The conference is set to begin at 4 p.m. today with the political briefing from DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), according to a copy of the agenda. Two hours later, lawmakers will move to the Library of Congress for a cocktail reception and a keynote address by Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Thursday will be dedicated to a “jobs summit,— kicking off with an 8 a.m. breakfast in the CVC Congressional Auditorium. The agenda promises a “full day of panels and prominent speakers on job creation and innovation,— but few other details so far.

President Barack Obama will deliver a keynote address, and Members will also receive a classified national security briefing. The day concludes with cocktails and dinner at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, kitty-corner to the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.

Lawmakers reconvene Friday for a 9 a.m. breakfast in the CVC Congressional Auditorium. Former President Bill Clinton will deliver that day’s keynote address, aides said, before the event adjourns at noon.

House Republicans will hold their annual retreat later this month in Baltimore.

GOP aides said the location was chosen because it is a “working-class city— that has been hit hard by the economic downturn.

One Republican aide said Members would use the three-day retreat to strategize how to take back the House. Aides declined comment about where Members would stay for the event, which will be held Jan. 28-30.

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that Obama accepted an invitation to address the GOP conference but did not indicate which day he would attend. House leaders said they would use the opportunity to push their solutions to the country’s economic woes.

“House Republicans look forward to presenting the president with our proposals to protect our nation, create jobs, control federal spending, lower the cost of health care, achieve energy independence and strengthen families,— House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said in a statement.

The Republican Study Committee’s annual retreat will take place in Charlottesville, Va., this Thursday through Saturday.

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.