Erik Paulsen


Rep. John Kline

John Kline

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Recess is test time for Minnesota's House Republicans

  • Article by: Corey Mitchell
  • Star Tribune
  • August 7, 2013 - 8:23 PM


– U.S. Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen will feel more heat this summer as liberal activists plan to confront the Republican congressmen wherever they go, relentlessly pressing them on hot-button issues such as immigration, gun control and the health care overhaul.

The intensified effort comes as President Obama is urging supporters to spend the next month speaking out on issues as part of an “Action August” effort lead by Organizing for Action, an activist network that sprouted from his campaign.

“We want to send a clear message to the House that these are issues that people are demanding action on,” said Blair Lawton, a coordinator with the organization’s Minnesota branch, Organizing for Minnesota.

Kline and Paulsen will be in the cross hairs of a large and coordinated fight over the control of Congress. But they came back to Minnesota with August agendas of their own, looking to strengthen GOP’s position in Congress and soften up the president’s agenda as more political showdowns loom.

Looking to outmaneuver growing dissatisfaction with Congress and garner support for dismantling Obama’s health care law, House GOP leaders equipped their caucus with detailed, step-by-step planning kits, “Fighting Washington for All Americans.” It’s a political playbook of events aimed at knocking the Obama administration and highlighting House Republicans’ efforts to challenge Democrats at every turn.

Republicans are hoping to recapture the fervor of 2009 when Tea Party activists and conservative groups stormed congressional town halls to scold Democrats who supported legislation to revamp the nation’s health care system.

In anticipation of Republican pushback, Organizing for Minnesota has hosted gun violence prevention and pro-immigration reform rallies around the state. Paid staff and volunteers will redouble their efforts this month, focusing on swing districts that Obama carried last year. The group has not poured resources into the state’s other Republican-held district, represented by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, because it tilts heavily Republican.

In Kline and Paulsen’s districts, Lawton said, the aim is to rally public support on issues that lawmakers will confront when they return to Washington after recess.

Much like the deeply partisan Congress, political observers don’t expect either side to budge much and predict this summer’s events will have more fizzle than fireworks.

“It will be interesting to see if anything like that [2009] type of public pressure manifests itself this time,” said Matt Grossman, a political scientist at Michigan State University. “But of the things that are going to influence a Republican member of Congress’ vote … advocacy group pressure is low on the list.”

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey agreed, citing Kline and Paulsen’s experience in navigating politically moderate districts.

“They’re very solid with their districts,” Downey said. “So an outside group or a really vocal minority trying to make a big difference … I don’t see that happening.”

Even as August recess activity ramps up, opportunities to confront lawmakers has declined, advocacy group leaders say.

Lawmakers from both parties conduct more carefully-scripted events, embrace talking points and spend more time shoring up supporters.

“What [lawmakers] have to worry about is the opinion of the people who have voted for them in the past,” said Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego. “They don’t have to worry about their opposition all that much.”

The shift has frustrated activists of all stripes.

“Most members of Congress have stopped engaging constituents and defending their policy initiatives,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, in a statement. “That’s the real outrage here, the inside the beltway resistance to a participatory process where people have a voice.”

FreedomWorks was among of the groups that helped mobilize the town hall protests of 2009.

To publicize events, Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Change unveiled a website this summer to track Republican congressional events in August. The site, Accountable Congress, lists only one event in Minnesota: Kline’s scheduled appearance at an Aug. 12 fundraiser in St. Louis Park. FreedomWorks launched a similar plan for Senate Democrats, urging voters to demand public meetings.

Kline and Paulsen declined to release specifics on their recess plans, but the August planning kit offers insight. The packet offers clear instructions on how to host and promote health care town halls along with college, health care, senior center and job tours that allow Republican congress members to frame issues.

“It’s not abnormal that you see both sides trying to seize this use this opportunity,” said Jacobson, the political scientist. “They want to try and demonstrate that there’s some kind of grass roots support for their position.”


Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell

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