Hey kids! Have you heard? The Rethugs have a strategery! Nope, I’m not kidding! Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe the guys at Politico:
Peril awaits any first-term lawmaker who ventures to the House floor unprepared for a duel, but Ohio Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy had a particularly rough go of it the other day.
Kilroy took the floor to support an amendment to a popular public-service bill — only to face an ambush from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who hit her hard for her vote on an unrelated American International Group measure.
It wasn’t an accident.
Foxx is part of a team of Republican members that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has put together to create embarrassing, YouTube-worthy moments for vulnerable Democratic freshmen.
Original DVD cover.
(Pictured: Eric Cantor, Louie Gohmert, Jason Chaffetz, Virginia Foxx)
Cantor’s floor staff has created a photo album to help identify the 42 most vulnerable Democrats. The aides send daily e-mails to the members of the attack team and alert lawmakers when these targeted members are speaking on the floor. They even draft quick scripts to help focus the questioning.
Democrats have begun pulling their vulnerable members from the floor as soon as the attacks begin.
The Foxx-Kilroy smackdown was so rough that Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) tapped Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), a ferocious debater, to play the part of Foxx during a subsequent exercise with his freshmen on floor procedure.
Team Cantor says it’s just holding Democrats accountable.
The floor can be a scary place for first-term lawmakers in both parties. Voices quiver as they read awkwardly from scripts drafted by their staff. Many are flustered by the rules, particularly those requiring lawmakers to avoid a direct dialogue with colleagues on the other side of the aisle by instead addressing whoever sits in the speaker’s chair.
Nervousness — and a lack of familiarity with the rules — make it tougher for new members to deflect political attacks when they find themselves in the cross hairs.
Since January, Republicans have been trying to capitalize on that uncertainty.
The strategy took root during a briefing Cantor organized earlier this year with former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.), whose mastery of floor procedure frustrated Democrats again and again during the GOP’s last stint in the minority.
As it evolved, Cantor and his floor team recruited members, like Foxx, to request time to speak when vulnerable Democrats, like Kilroy, offer amendments or bills. The goal is to put these Democrats on the spot to answer tough political questions on sensitive topics. Under the rules of the House, the targeted members are forced to answer the questions or risk embarrassment in front of C-SPAN viewers and YouTube surfers.
The group of attackers includes members such as Foxx, freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and talkative Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert — lawmakers who enjoy mixing it up in public.
Of course, these attacks don’t always work out. Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, a veteran of party politics, quickly turned a Chaffetz challenge against his attacker. The Utah freshman also appeared flustered when Kilroy left the floor recently as he launched another line of questioning about her AIG vote.
Democrats are now hip to the scam and rarely take the bait. A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quickly ushers most junior members out of the chamber whenever Republicans launch an attack — even if the member is controlling debate.
But the guerrilla tactics — which are just about all the Republicans have — are sure to continue as long as Democratic leaders, in a time-honored bid to help junior members look productive, keep encouraging them to offer amendments and bills.
The majority leader plans to hold a follow-up briefing for freshmen shortly after members return from the two-week spring recess, a senior leadership aide said. The focus of this next meeting will be on teaching these freshmen to hit back when Republicans put them on the spot — citing Rep. Barney Frank, the sharp-tongued Massachusetts Democrat who regularly embarrasses any lawmaker who questions him on the floor.
“It’s not just getting them off the floor,” the aide said. “It’s teaching them to hammer back.”
The Swamp at The Chicago Tribune has the video of the Virginia Foxx/Mary Jo Kilroy confrontation.