Military Forces Democrats to Move Retreat to CVC

Posted January 12, 2010 at 11:18am

House Democrats have had to scramble to retool their plans for their annual issues conference — set to kick off Wednesday — after military officials nixed their plan to hold it at Fort McNair.

The military’s objection apparently centered on the fact that Democratic lawmakers would be using 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 will open Wednesday 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 retreat. A military spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for comment.

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 impact 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 it was officials at Fort McNair who 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 begins 4 p.m. Wednesday with the political briefing from DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), according to a copy of the agenda. Two hours later, lawmakers will move over 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,— with events 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.