President Obama and a key outside ally are stepping up efforts to ensure passage of the massive economic stimulus package, reaching out to Congress with both carrots and sticks.
While the president and his top aides are using all the trappings of the office, courting members through phone calls, cocktail parties, West Wing sit-downs and even a politically mixed Super Bowl party, liberal groups are dispensing with the niceties and seeking to drive a wedge between Republicans and one of the right’s most influential leaders.
Politico has learned that tomorrow Americans United for Change, a liberal group, will begin airing radio ads in three states Obama won — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada — with a tough question aimed at the GOP senators there: Will you side with Obama or Rush Limbaugh?
“Every Republican member of the House chose to take Rush Limbaugh’s advice,” says the narrator after playing the conservative talk radio giant’s declaration that he hopes Obama “fails.”
“Every Republican voted with Limbaugh — and against creating 4 million new American jobs. We can understand why a extreme partisan like Rush Limbaugh wants President Obama’s Jobs program to fail — but the members of Congress elected to represent the citizens in their districts? That’s another matter. Now the Obama plan goes to the Senate, and the question is: Will our Senator"—here the ad is tailored by state to name George Voinovich in Ohio, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, and John Ensign in Nevada—"side with Rush Limbaugh too?”
Asked to respond, Limbaugh had a message for his party.
“Senate Republicans need to understand this is not about me,” he wrote in an email. “It is about them, about intimidating them, especially after the show of unity in House. It is about the 2010 and 2012 elections. This is an opportunity for Republicans to redefine themselves after a few years of wandering aimlessly looking for a ‘brand’ and identity.”
Brad Woodhouse, the Democratic strategist who is overseeing the ad campaign, said: “The House Republicans put their Senate colleagues in the crosshairs because they decided to play politics rather than do the right thing.”
The radio buy comes on the heels of TV campaign by Americans United for Change and other liberal groups that began Thursday and targets GOP senators in Maine, New Hampshire, Alaska and Iowa, and another by the Laborers Union aimed at Senators in Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada and Tennessee; both designed to rally support for the stimulus package.
As their allies take to the airwaves, Obama and his top aides are conducting their own internal inside-outside lobbying effort.
The president devoted hours to closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans Tuesday, had leaders of both parties over to the White House for cocktails on Wednesday and hosted yet more members of Congress for a bill-signing in the East Room Thursday.
All the while, he’s been dialing individual members on the phone and his top aides, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and National Economic Council chief Larry Summers, are conducting what one Senate Democratic leadership aide described as near-constant diplomacy on the Hill via both phone calls and personal meetings.
A few chosen members of Congress of both parties will receive the ultimate in White House wooing this weekend when they join Obama Sunday night in the residence to watch the Super Bowl. The list is an ideologically diverse one. Politico has learned it will include, among other opposites, conservative Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and liberal Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
More publicly, Obama is making his case for the bill through a series of events that this week included a high-profile White House meeting and speech before a group of the nation’s top CEOs. Friday, Obama along with Vice President Joe Biden will deliver remarks sure to touch on the economy at an East Room event focused on middle class and working families.
From the briefing room podium, press secretary Robert Gibbs has been underscoring the need for the stimulus with a series of sobering statistics. Wednesday it was some state unemployment rates and Thursday he noted that more Americans are on unemployment since records began being kept in 1967. Friday, he’ll surely turn to what is expected to be a dismal economic growth report from the quarter of 2008.
Senate Republicans acknowledge that they’ll lose some of their members on the first vote.
“We’re in a little different spot than the House in that we have a handful of Republicans who have all but committed to supporting the package,” said a Senate GOP aide.
The aide declined to say who, but speculation on both sides of the aisle is centered on a group of northeasterners -- Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Sen. Judd Gregg (NH) and Specter.