House Democrats huddle ahead of major legislative fights
February 6th, 2013
08:32 PM ET
9 years ago

House Democrats huddle ahead of major legislative fights

Leesburg, Virginia (CNN) - Two and a half weeks after President Barack Obama laid out his ambitious second term priorities during his inauguration speech, his Democratic allies in the House of Representatives are huddling to plot how those goals can be met while Republicans hold control of the chamber.

On their plate are proposals enacting new restrictions on owning guns, comprehensive immigration reform and mandatory spending cuts – all issues where Democrats and Republicans have traditionally been unable to find common ground.

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Speaking at a news conference at the beginning of the House Democratic Caucus retreat, held at a golf resort in the outer Washington suburb of Leesburg, the caucus' vice chairman, Rep. Joe Crowley, said he was confident his minority party would have a voice in debates dominated by House Republicans and the White House.

"It's been somewhat of a pleasant surprise that minority votes have been relevant," Crowley said. "We talk about tackling big problems, and sometimes big problems need big solutions, and that means bipartisanship. We recognize we are in the minority, but some of these issues are bigger than Democrats or Republicans.

At their retreat, the Democrats were to hear from Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday and Obama on Thursday. Former President Bill Clinton was slated to close out the event on Friday.

And while Democrats, unlike Republicans, aren't facing an identity crisis borne from last year's election, they are still the minority in the House and will be defending 21 of the 35 seats up for re-election in the Senate in 2014.

Regaining the House majority lost in 2010 is a main goal for the party in the next two years, though it remains unclear how much help members will receive from Obama, who didn't fundraise at all for House Democrats during his 2012 re-election bid and won't be running his own campaign in 2014.

Since losing the House majority to the GOP in 2010, some Democrats have been left disappointed on issues where Obama struck a deal with Republican leaders, such as the deal to avert a government shutdown in 2011 and the agreement avoiding the fiscal cliff at the beginning of the year.

Both Republicans and Democrats have also grumbled about the president's seeming unwillingness to work with rank and file members, choosing instead to deal primarily with the House and Senate leadership, and often delegating negotiations to Biden or top aides.

Speaking at the news conference on Wednesday, Rep. Xavier Becerra, the chairman of the Democratic caucus, said there would be opportunity for interaction with the president when he speaks to members on Thursday – but that lawmakers should understand the president is a busy man.

"Like our 310 million fellow Americans, we know the president of the United States is not going to have a chance to speak to every one of us," he said.

Crowley said everyone would like greater interaction with Obama.

"But the right amount of interaction is arbitrary," he said. "It shouldn't be about personal feelings, or if the president feels good about us. It's about what we're doing to solve problems in front of America today."

Obama's relationship with Congress will be put into the spotlight in the coming weeks as major legislative issues come before Congress.

Democrats in the House face battles with majority Republicans on a diverse range of issues, from the annual budget fight that began at the beginning of January to the emotionally charged matter of increasing restrictions on guns, which Obama is pushing after December's shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

While Obama and some Senate Democrats are pressing to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, most observers say that measures bolstering background checks stand the best chance of advancing through Congress, including through the Republican-held House.

On Tuesday, the No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Eric Cantor, told CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash that he supported beefing up background checks, including improving the federal database those checks utilize.

Democratic leaders in the House, however, prefer more sweeping measures, including the assault weapons ban and prohibiting high capacity ammunition magazines. But even some pro-gun Democrats could oppose those measures, making passage unlikely.

The House is also expected to take up immigration reform at some point in the coming months after a major push from both Obama and a bipartisan group of senators.

A group of Democratic and Republican House members are also meeting in secret to develop bipartisan immigration reform legislation, though members are tightlipped on specifics of what could be included in their plan or when it could be presented.

House Speaker John Boehner did acknowledge the group's existence during a speech to the conservative Ripon Society in January, saying members "basically have an agreement."

At Wednesday's news conference, Democratic lawmakers were less forthcoming, saying only that lawmakers in their caucus hadn't gone into any detail so far on the bipartisan conversations at this week's retreat.

"We didn't get into any specifics with any conversations going on between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, but we agreed something needs to be done to fix this immigration system," Becerra said.

House Republican leaders, intent on rehabilitating their brand among Latino voters, have largely remained silent about what specifics they would include in an immigration reform plan, namely whether they would support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.

In the past, Republicans have opposed such a measure, calling it amnesty. But in the bipartisan Senate framework unveiled last week - crafted with the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, among other Republicans – such a pathway is proposed, contingent on ramped up border security.

At the House's first immigration hearing Tuesday, some Republicans also proposed introducing immigration reform measures piecemeal, rather than as part of a large comprehensive deal.

Watching the hearing, Becerra said he at least saw lawmakers prepared to tackle the hot-button issue of immigration.

"While maybe some may have listened to that hearing and said the Republicans aren't yet ready to go beyond DREAM Act, I heard something very different. I didn't hear Republicans saying it was impossible," he said.

Even more encouraging, he said, were conversations he's had in private with Republican colleagues, who Becerra believes "are ready for comprehensive immigration reform."

Filed under: Congress • House Democrats
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Ancient Texan

    Immigration reform and hamstringing the second admendment are the "lazer focus" now. The economy, the national debt, and unemployment are a mere nuisance that can wait until the prez can destroy the Republicans.

    February 6, 2013 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  2. J.V.Hodgson

    You know what? Me like most of my fellow AMERICANS, I WOULD CARE TO BET, INCLUDING LATINOS; are more interested in doing a reasonable budget that helps address the budget deficit first and consequentially debt issue.
    To my Republican and GOP friends when you as individuals or businesses have the Keynsian dichotomy of Income, STG old style 19pounds 19 shillings and sixpence, expenses STG 20 pound and sixpence result Unhappiness. The opposite of income an expenses= happiness!!
    Families or businesses when trying to resolve that dichotomy look to increasing income first it helps feed ones life/ desires. Only when that fails to deliver do you reduce spending and lifestyle costs.
    As a CPA it was the same in my business life. First we got the marketing guys to come up with an income plan. Then we'd look at existing spendings/ policies, and if profit growh OK go ahead . As usual the expenses were too high so we ended up with a lower income target and lower spending while growing profit or reducing debt.
    Beyond that simply put you need to reduce debt costs, hence current fed monetary policies.
    Spending cuts alone as GOP suggest = austerity management and it aint working in Europe and would as in Europe increase unemployment and QED government spending on benfits etc
    Do the budget first , stop the sequester, then Gun laws and immigration.
    I want a budget that has some chance within it of reducing unemployment. Do that and I can listen to immigration and gun control. Not the other way round.

    February 7, 2013 03:58 am at 3:58 am |
  3. A Kickin` Donkey

    It wasn`t until recently that I, someone that pays attention to politics, became aware of the Republican House tactic known as the "Hassert Rule". Every Democratic Congressman needs to take the floor of the House and publicly DENOUNCE this behavior. John Boehner only ALLOWS the House of Representatives to vote on bills that the MAJORITY of Republicans favor. So if some Republicans want to put country FIRST ahead of Tea Party politics and join Democrats to vote for some piece of legislation, Speaker Boehner blocks it.

    This needs to be exposed as part of the attack strategy to pass Mr. Obama`s legislative agenda AND to retake the House. I would think all those career-minded Democratic politicians would want to do everything possible to reclaim the Chairmanships of House committees.

    February 7, 2013 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
  4. Name lynn

    Them democrates, an them white house leaders an boehner obama is not playing games with them, an they all know this. when all said an done obama dont need them he can pass bill without them, hes a great an kind man. I wouldnt let the resr of m hair turn gray with them either.

    February 7, 2013 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  5. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    It's clear that the gop house is hurting the country with their redical agenda and have done more damage to the country in the last four years then has been done in the last 60 years .its easy to pick out the dumbest voters from the hick states that keep sending the gop bafoons back to congress to block all progress .

    February 7, 2013 08:13 am at 8:13 am |