Democrats’ retreat: where John Legend and Jerome Powell converge

House Democrats tap celebrities, journalists, academics, union leaders for Leesburg, Virginia, next week

John Legend, left, pictured with singing his song “Yes We Can” during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, will speak to House Democrats at their annual retreat next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats on Tuesday announced a lineup of speakers for their retreat in Leesburg, Virginia, next week that includes celebrities, journalists, academics and union leaders, but is light on politicians.

In past years, Democrats have had big names in politics headline their retreats. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the retreat multiple times when they were in office, and Biden addressed the caucus again last year to help Democrats hone their economic messaging ahead of the 2018 midterms.

This year, the two biggest names speaking at the retreat will be celebrity couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, who will take part in a moderated Q&A.

The closest Democrats get to a politician with their speaker selections is Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. Although Powell was nominated by President Donald Trump, he has come under intense criticism from the president for the Fed’s recent decisions.

“We obviously have an important role to play as it relates to fiscal policy. He has a tremendously important role to play as it relates to monetary policy, which will be essential to the future of our country and our economy,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, explaining the decision to extend an invite to Powell.

Other retreat speakers announced by Jeffries on Tuesday include technology journalist Kara Swisher, Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders and “Strangers in Their Own Land” author Arlie Russell Hochschild.

The retreat theme is “100 Days In: Fighting for the People,” Jeffries said.

The heads of key labor unions — including SEIU’s  Henry, AFSCME’s Saunders and the Association of Flight Attendants–CWA’s Sara Nelson — will participate in a plenary session during the event about helping working families.

Swisher, the editor of Recode, will discuss the changing workforce, including automation issues. 

The immigration plenary will feature John Yang of Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Fernando Garcia of the Border Network for Human Rights.

Jeffries also said Democrats will talk about their plans for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and lowering health care costs and prescription drug prices, keeping the focus largely on the caucus’s economic agenda.

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