Republican members of the U.S. House seem to be leaving little to chance as their members prepare to spend the August recess among their voters. A "planning kit" explains how to maximize exposure and minimize contrary opinions on issues like health care reform. In the kit's introductory letter to her fellow Republicans, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says they should tell the folks back home the GOP is fighting for them against Washington and the bureaucracy. "There is no better message than one that puts the American people before an out-of-control government," she wrote.
As chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the Eastern Washington congresswoman is in charge of this year's kit, a 30-page booklet of helpful hints to members on how to make the most of their time back in the district. Riva Litman, a conference spokeswoman, said something similar goes out before each August recess. It's "a playbook of best practices" gleaned from many members' experiences.
The kit offers suggestions for events on energy, health care and jobs; at power plants, on Main Street and on farms; highlighting red tape and government waste. It suggests events aimed at "millennials" -- the young adults who voted strongly for Democrats in the 2012 election. It also suggests an Obamacare media tour, "to emphasize the need to repeal Obamacare to protect employees, small businesses and jobs." House Republicans have voted nearly 40 times to repeal the law, also known as the federal Affordable Care Act, but it remains on the books.
In planning such an event, the kit advises members and their staff to "make sure all participants will be 100 percent on message. They do not have to be Republicans. They need to be able to discuss the negative effects of Obamacare on their employees."
Use social media
Litman said she didn't see presenting only opponents of Obamacare during such an event as a form of stacking the deck against the law. Having both positive and negative comments would be more muddled, she said. Opponents would be free, she said, to ask questions at an "Emergency Health Care Town Hall," which the kit suggests should focus on the negative effects of Obamacare and the House Republican plan to dismantle it. "Anybody can ask whatever they want," she said, adding that at her town hall meetings, McMorris Rodgers "never knows what questions are coming."
Some suggestions back up McMorris Rodgers' long-running efforts to get GOP House members to use more social media. Promote your events on Facebook, the kit says. Have a staff member tweet live while you visit senior centers, businesses or hospitals, or when you pump gas or bag groceries for constituents. Post photos and video clips afterward on Facebook or Vines.
It offers tips on managing the news media as much as possible, with a guest editorial at the beginning of the session talking about your goals, and guest columns on special topics you co-author with like-minded people in the district. Do interviews promoting the various events, town hall meetings and roundtable discussions with group such as local businesses, health care workers or nonprofit groups targeted by the Internal Revenue Service, it advises. But don't let reporters attend your roundtable discussions.
Litman said that was for the comfort of the people coming to speak. "It promotes an open, candid conversation," Litman said. "It's just to protect the confidentiality of what's being said."
In the past, the planning kit was sent to members just a few days before they left for the August recess, which didn't provide much time for planning. This year, Part 1 of the kit came out about two weeks ago. Part 2 will come out later this month and have more issues, including one of the most controversial right now in Congress, immigration reform.
House Democrats do not yet have what one staff member called resource materials for the August recess. But they were recently sent a video on immigration reform that they have been urged to post on social media to engage their constituents.