Democrats Eager for Obama to Hit Trail
But Some Lawmakers Fret Over the Message
House Democrats have a list of expectations for President Barack Obama over the August recess, although some may not match up with the message the White House is planning to roll out.
A House Democratic leadership aide said Obama would be most helpful to Members if he sticks to topics that play well for Democrats across the board: jobs, veterans assistance, consumer protection, small-business lending and protecting Social Security.
“Being out there a lot on message to create the echo chamber and elevate the Democratic brand, and getting our guys money is what we want and need. We need him to be in campaign mode,” the aide said.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Obama only needs to do two things: “Focus on the economy and beat up on Republicans.”
Several lawmakers said their only expectation of Obama is that he keeps doing what he has been doing: talking up jobs and the economy.
“I don’t want any gimmicks or ploys saying that we’ll do this or that for politics. Let’s just do what the people sent us here to do and let the chips fall,” Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) said.
Freshman Rep. Gerry Connolly said the president needs to give “a full-throated effort” to remind the public that Democrats inherited an economic crisis from the Bush administration and moved swiftly to turn the economy around.
“This White House and this Congress saved the country from financial collapse,” the Virginia Democrat said. In delivering that message, Obama also “has to remind everybody that the crowd that drove this car into the ditch wants the keys back. Not so fast.”
Some Democrats want the president to call attention to issues that he campaigned on, regardless of their status in Congress.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who chairs the Immigration Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Obama should “definitely” be talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform over the recess.
“We’re not here to negotiate with the Republicans anymore. We’re here to negotiate with ourselves,” the Illinois Democrat said. The question is whether Obama is willing to stick his neck out when “he sees that the movement is becoming more and more fractured around him” because he has not pushed the matter hard enough, he said.
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez agreed that Obama should focus on immigration reform over the recess, although he said it should be more about “laying the groundwork” with supporters in business and religious communities to push for reform next year.
It does not matter as much “that he’s on the campaign trail trying to bring it up wherever it plays or doesn’t play,” the Texas Democrat said. “The real work is to bring these supporters into the legislative process.”
Not everybody thinks Obama will put out the right message.
Freshman Rep. Walt Minnick, who represents a heavily conservative district, said the president needs to do more to show that Democrats are getting deficits under control.
“Anything that suggests more big government tends to go against the grain of my district,” said Minnick, who opposed two of Obama’s signature issues — health care reform and Wall Street reform — because of his district’s concerns about government spending.
The Idaho lawmaker acknowledged that Obama will most likely be talking about job creation and the economy, but he urged the president to talk about how companies stand to benefit.
“It needs to be more focused on helping private-sector jobs. That would be a better message in my district,” he said.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza said Obama has to get back to talking about how the economic meltdown was triggered by the foreclosure crisis, which has “devastated” his district and many others.
“They’re absolutely not talking about it. They don’t have anything to say about it,” Cardoza said. “This is a fundamental miscalculation on his part and it’s going to cost us dearly in the elections if he doesn’t understand it. And I believe it will cost him his re-election ultimately.”
The California Democrat said he met with administration officials on Tuesday and listened to them talk about “all the great things that they’ve done” to stem foreclosures. While the officials touted 28,000 counseling sessions they have arranged for victims of the foreclosure crisis, Cardoza said, “nobody is engaging real Americans on the ground. … Twenty-eight thousand counseling sessions isn’t a pimple on an elephant’s butt. So I’m happy that they’re thinking about messaging, but I want them to think about policy.”
Earlier this month, the president urged House and Senate Democratic leaders to act on three issues — Wall Street reform, an extension of unemployment insurance and a small-business lending bill — that Democrats could trumpet over the recess as proof that they are focused on the economy. The first two items have since passed; the third is pending in the Senate.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week that those votes show the difference between Democratic and GOP priorities.
“You’re going to get to decide whether there are new rules in the road for the way banks and Wall Street works, or you’re not. You’re going to get to decide whether you’re for helping the long-term unemployment or you’re not. You’re going to get to decide whether you think there should be increased lending for job creation in small business or not,” Gibbs said. “Those are votes that will be important and a conversation that will be important as we move into the fall.”