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Out of the Majority ... And the Spotlight

CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- Here's the latest example of what it means to be in the minority party: This year's House GOP conference retreat to the Eastern Shore has drawn roughly one-third the number of press as in years past.

Last year, according to those who've participated before, a couple dozen journalists were on hand (including some cable television crews) to monitor the gathering, which came in the wake of Tom DeLay's exit from leadership. CNN even turned the Thursday evening off-the-record happy hour with Republican leaders into its chance to score an interview with then-Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

A little less than 12 months later, with just 202 GOP members in the House and much of the inside-the-Beltway attention focused on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic showdown with President Bush on Iraq, only a half dozen media outlets from inside Washington made the 90-minute trek over the Bay Bridge to see how the House Republicans were regrouping. Not a single TV camera is anywhere in sight.

But Republicans aren't complaining about the lack of attention. The lack of a huge media spotlight is probably welcome as they sort through the fall electoral fiasco and try to chart a course toward regaining the majority.

In fact, GOP aides said that the total lawmaker turnout for this year's retreat -- at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort -- is close to what it was last year. But, with 30 fewer members in the caucus, Republicans have turned out at a higher percentage than last year.

Boehner, now minority leader, shepherded his troops through morning sessions at which the conference reviewed the fall elections and tried to determine why they lost so badly to Democrats.

Not surprisingly, Boehner had three reasons, in this order: Iraq, the lack of competency in a federal government in which the Republicans controlled every branch, and corruption by GOP lawmakers guilty of "straying from the path."

Then came a lunchtime session with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who was on hand to try to get the lawmakers to think "outside the box."

"It was the Newt of old," Boehner, who remains a Gingrich ally, told reporters at the day's lone on-the-record briefing.

As if to translate what Boehner meant, Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), the No. 3 member of the GOP leadership team, said Gingrich was talking fast and spouting plenty of thoughts and ideas. "You can't write fast enough," the Republican Conference chairman said of his note-taking abilities when Gingrich speaks.

The afternoon session for the GOP consists of break-out sessions with each member of the elected leadership convening a group of Republicans, at which they will try to take Gingrich's advice and come up with ideas for the 110th Congress.

Tomorrow, however, is the big day, with President Bush flying into town to rally the troops. Unlike years past, Bush will face an audience that includes plenty of lawmakers who attribute their new minority status to Bush and his handling of the Iraq war. (See point No. 1 above from Boehner about the '06 midterms.)

Reporters -- and there likely will be more on hand tomorrow for Bush's arrival -- will be allowed in for the president's speech to the GOP conference, but then Capitol Briefing and the rest of us will be ushered out so that the members can have a frank question-and-answer session with the president, a lot of which is likely to be focused on his unpopular plan to surge 21,500 new troops into Baghdad.

Boehner said it will be a no-holds-barred session for Bush, who is quickly becoming more and more of a lame duck in the eyes of most members.

"It'll be freewheelin', don't worry about that," Boehner said of tomorrow's session.

By Paul Kane  |  January 25, 2007; 4:35 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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"Then came a lunchtime session with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who was on hand to try to get the lawmakers to think "outside the box." "

Can't argue with that; aside from his moral flaws Gingrich has always been good at idea generation. Will the members listen? The GOP's tendency is to not consider other ideas and reflexively accuse the opposing party/candidate of not having any. Can Gingrich get them past that? There are usually plenty of alternatives to whatever policy they (or Bush/Cheney) have decided to set into stone.

It may be too late for this bunch; it's been said that "science advances funeral by funeral." In this case it may be true that the GOP advances election by election. This seems to have worked out well for the Democrats.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | January 25, 2007 6:18 PM | Report abuse

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