Democrats Predict Cooler August This Year

Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:36am

As Democrats return home for an August recess that could make or break their bid to hold the House in November, party leaders expressed confidence that their rank and file will not encounter the kind of public angst at town halls that dominated cable news last summer.

“I think, frankly, that ran its course,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters late last week. “Not totally, you’re still going to have it, but I think people really do want to engage. They understand we have serious challenges, and they want to hear serious discussion about how to solve those problems.”

The Maryland Democrat said House leaders have issued no specific guidance to their Members regarding town hall meetings over the August recess. Last summer, amid the divisive debate over health care reform, tea party protesters disrupted a number of Democratic town hall sessions and garnered national headlines.

Despite last summer’s disruptions, Hoyer predicted that “a lot” of Democrats “will be having a lot of town meetings” this recess.

“The atmosphere has changed,” he said, adding that roughly 10 Members had reported to him that there were “pleasantly surprised” by the reception they got during July 4 parades.

But Hoyer also said he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were stressing that their rank and file should not hesitate to distance themselves from their party leadership in what is expected to be an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington election.

“That’s what we’re telling them. … They don’t represent us. They don’t represent the Democratic party. They represent their district,” Hoyer said.

Convinced their fate in November could hinge largely on how voters perceive their efforts to bolster the economy and create jobs, Democratic leaders have distributed a memo to their rank and file outlining themes for them focus on during each week of the recess.

All but one of the weekly themes — “Troops and Veterans Week” — falls under the banner of “Fighting for the Middle Class.” Democrats will highlight their new “Make It in America” manufacturing initiative, as well as their efforts to aid consumers and small businesses and to protect Social Security.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s incumbent retention program, said she “absolutely” anticipates that Democrats will encounter a friendlier atmosphere than they did last summer, adding that she too was not discouraging Democrats in competitive races from holding town hall sessions.

“People are feeling a little more at ease,” the Florida Democrat said. “They’ve seen the progress. They know things are turning around. … The angst has definitely lessened.”

But GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence disagreed.

“Democrats that are willing to conduct public forums, I think will see that, if anything, the public’s determination to turn our country back towards fiscal discipline and reform has only grown since a year ago,” the Indiana Republican said.

Republican leaders sent their Members home with a 22-page recess packet titled, “Tread Boldly: Solutions, Hard Work and No Regrets.” They are encouraging their members to focus heavily on the “America Speaking Out” initiative as well as on Republican approaches to jobs, spending, government reform, national security, and health care.

“House Republicans are going to fan out across this country and engage the American people on our principled opposition to the borrowing and spending, the bailouts and the takeovers – and we’re going to engage the American people on the solutions to create jobs and get spending under control that we’ve been promoting over the last year and a half,” Pence said.

Back in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) still hopes to score a few wins next week before the chamber adjourns for the summer.

But it will be a breakneck pace in the chamber until the last floor speech before September is read.

Reid teed up a procedural vote Monday evening on a funding measure for education and state Medicaid programs, after giving up temporarily on a small-business jobs bill that stalled on the floor last week and failed to attract even one Republican supporter. Reid said Friday he was “hopeful” the Senate could still pass the measure next week, but it remains unclear whether he can find the GOP vote he desperately needs to do so.

The other legislative to-do for next week — a scaled-back energy proposal — also remains a long shot unless a few Republicans come forward. The measure that focuses on the Gulf Coast oil spill has only lukewarm support among Democrats, who struggled for months to find consensus on a more comprehensive approach. Reid is likely to file cloture on the proposal Monday, with a procedural vote set to ripen Wednesday.

Following the energy vote, the chamber is expected to pivot to the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan. She is expected to win Senate confirmation, giving Democrats a victory heading into the five-week recess.

Five Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), and Dick Lugar (Ind.) — have publicly expressed their support for Kagan’s nomination.

One Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), has stated he will oppose Kagan’s nomination.