Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Rebuttal

Tonight, after the President finishes his State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress, Massachusetts Congressman Rep. Joe Kennedy III will give the official English language Democratic response in front of an assembled crowd at a technical school in his district. Newly-elected State Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, D- Va., will give the official Spanish language Democratic response.

These official opposition party rebuttal speeches date back to 1966. They’ve taken a variety of formats, ranging from call-in shows, to press conferences, to focus groups. Regardless of how they’re delivered, they always aim to give the other party a chance to offer their two cents. In the modern era, there are typically one or two official rebuttals, as well as a couple unofficial ones. They are often short speeches which are written in advance, and thus, don’t directly address the President’s remarks. While these speeches have next to no policy importance, they can give a young up-and-coming elected official a chance to speak to a large audience. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately for those up-and-comers, in recent years there has been something of a “career curse” on the person chosen to deliver the remarks. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s poorly received 2009 speech damaged his career. Florida Senator Marco Rubio had a case of cottonmouth and was forced to swig water in the middle of his remarks. The clip went viral on YouTube and became a not-so-complimentary point in his opponents’ speeches during the campaign. One can imagine the 37-year-old Congressman Kennedy is hoping to break the curse. Stay tuned!

- By Jared Payne

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States"

On Tuesday, January 30, the House Sergeant at Arms will walk into the chamber of the House of Representatives and announce the arrival of the President of the United States to give his “State of the Union” address, as required under the Constitution. This update hasn’t always been given as a speech. Thomas Jefferson abandoned the practice in favor of a written address to be read by the House Clerk, but Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of in-person delivery in 1913. 

The moment is full of imagery, lofty language, and lots of play-by-play commentary, but it does serve a purpose. The President uses this opportunity to lay out his domestic priorities for the year, which will then be reflected in a subsequent official budget request to Congress. The speech can take on a laundry list nature, and interruptions for applause from the President’s party can make them seem like they go on forever. That said, they serve as an important opportunity for a White House to outline its legislative priorities for the upcoming year in an informal and easily digestible fashion.

Plus, they’re a time-honored opportunity for DC politicos to engage in friendly drinking games at bi-partisan viewings.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Special Elections

When there is a vacancy in a House or Senate seat, a special election is often called for voters to have an opportunity to cast ballots and fill the vacancy. Definitionally, these elections occur at a date other than the prescribed date in November of the appropriate year. Not all Senate vacancies are filled with an immediate special election. In some states, the Governor appoints someone to fill the vacancy in the interim, as happened with Sen. Tina Smith’s appointment in Minnesota following Sen. Franken’s resignation. In this case, Tina Smith will be running for election in 2018, leaving Minnesota in the odd place of having two simultaneous Senate election campaigns.

Once a House member resigns, a special election is called for some date in the future and a campaign begins. While the Representative is gone, the office still exists to represent citizens of the district. For example, Jason Chaffetz resigned as the Representative for Utah’s 3rd District on June 30, 2017, but an election was not held until November 7th with Representative John Curtis assuming the office several days later. No member of Congress was present for floor voters or political statements, but for over four months, staff from the Office of the Utah 3rd Congressional District existed to help constituents with casework needs. During this period, we attempted to arrange meetings for one or two clients, but the office would not take Lobby Day meetings with advocates because they could not speak to any political position. This is standard protocol, but it never hurts to ask if you could still provide information.

House vacancies are never filled with a temporary interim appointment, which can result in some lengthy gaps between officeholders. Rep. John Conyers resigned on December 5th, 2017, but the election for his replacement will not be until November 2018, leaving voters in the Michigan 13th without a Member of Congress for a long time. 

- By Jared Payne

Friday, January 05, 2018

Reliability and Credibility Matter Most

Last month, we had the pleasure of listening to Dr. David Rehr present his Congressional Communications Report, and were left with valuable insights about the ways staff receive, value, and process information. Staff members in congressional offices are often young and new to their roles. As a result, they increasingly value credible and reliable information. Contrary to public perceptions, staffers place little value in the reputation of the person or group seeking to meet them, and even less in campaign contributions. They simply want you to provide reliable and trustworthy information. Regardless of political party, they are more likely to almost always consult constituents, as opposed to lobbyists or the national press.

As someone organizing Lobby Days, what does that tell you? If your advocates are prepared, engaging, and follow-up, they can build relationships and become the most effective outreach tool in your arsenal. 100% of Legislative Assistants said they were influenced be reliable information, and nearly as many said they were influenced by concise arguments and face-to-face meetings. Only 6% of Legislative Assistants said mass-email campaigns swayed them. When visiting Capitol Hill, bring informed and knowledgeable advocates who will follow-up, but make sure that they never pretend to know something they don’t. Staff members are busy; if you can make their lives easier, you can influence them.

- By Jared Payne

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

They're Back!

It’s January 3rd and Congress has returned to town for the beginning of the 2nd Session of the 115th Congress. With the midterms in November, a packed legislative agenda and two newly sworn-in Senators, 2018 should be full of surprises. The calendar below shows when they’ll be in DC—and when you can see them at home! 

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Welcome to 2018!

As we journey into 2018, a new session of Congress, and a new Lobby Day season, take a look at some New Year’s resolutions for advocates from a previous podcast.