Bill Clinton Still Expected at House Dems' Retreat
House Democrats heading off to their annual retreat this weekend in Williamsburg, Va., are surely sending positive energy in the direction of their favorite former president, Bill Clinton, whose step-father Richard Kelley passed away Wednesday in Little Rock.
News of Kelley's grave condition had already forced Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to cancel a previously planned trip to New Hampshire this weekend, and it wouldn't have been a surprise to anyone if the 42nd president had decided to skip the Democrats' gathering.
Clinton will speak Saturday at Kelley's funeral, but he is still expected to speak to House Democrats tonight, according to two sources familiar with retreat planning.
The former president remains one of the most sought after advisers to Democrats at all levels, often regarded as the party's best political tactician -- a liberal counterpoint to Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser.
Sources indicated that Clinton is scheduled to address the Democratic caucus for at least two hours tonight in the James River Ballroom of the Kingsmill Resort, in a discussion moderated by his former White House aide, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who is now chairman of the caucus.
It is a private meeting, as are all sessions throughout the weekend.
Just 12 years ago, Clinton's unpopular presidency -- along with his wife's politically disastrous health-care proposal -- drove House Democrats into the minority. Tonight, the caucus is expected to welcome the former president back as a party hero.
House Democrats are officially not calling this jaunt a "retreat," perhaps hoping to avoid the word's back-sliding definition. Instead, it is being billed as an "issues conference."
The agenda is wide ranging, not just limited to break-out sessions led by lawmakers and politicians. According to a draft schedule, one of the first speakers scheduled for this afternoon was August Busch IV, President and CEO, Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc.
Another speaker slated to speak tonight is Alvin Toffler -- a self-described futurologist whose dynamic thinking was the spark for many of the ideas hatched a dozen years ago by ex-president Clinton's main nemesis, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
The other big highlight of the Democratic retreat will be Saturday morning, when President Bush -- the president, not the beer maven -- talks in private to the new majority and takes questions from the caucus.
Capitol Briefing is heading to Williamsburg on Friday morning and will be reporting on the scene over the weekend. So check back over the next 48 hours.
Update, 6:30 p.m. ET: Busch's company just happens to be the owner of the resort that the Democrats are staying in, so he was the official greeter to the group. His remarks were very brief, and he was not on hand to give any sort of political or legislative advice, according to a Democratic staffer.
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