The president is engaged in a high-profile outreach campaign to congressional Republicans, heading to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with the House Republican conference, and again on Thursday to meet with Senate Republicans. He’ll also hold meetings on the Hill with congressional Democrats. Those meetings were announced by the White House last week, mentioned in the president’s weekend address, and printed in the White House schedule.
But in addition to this charm offensive targeting his political opponents, the president will also make an under-the-radar appearance at an event hosted by Organizing for Action, the advocacy network composed of his former campaign staff and grassroots supporters which has been set up as a tax-exempt “social welfare group.”
The president will speak on Wednesday night at a two-day OFA “Founders’ Summit” in Washington. It’s Obama’s first in-person meeting with the group. Donors will also hear from former White House adviser David Plouffe, former 2012 Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, and OFA Executive Director Jon Carson. Politico first reported the news on Monday morning.
Organizing for Action has received blistering criticism for offering potential access to big donors. Last week, after The New York Times reported that donors who contribute and raise $500,000 for OFA will get special access to the president, Messina defended the organization in an op ed, writing, “…every donor who gives $250 or more to this organization will be disclosed on the website with the exact amount they give on a quarterly basis. We have decided not to accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors.” He also argued that meetings with the president promised to big donors are not opportunities to lobby, instead they are “briefings on the positions the president has taken and the status of seeing them through.”
Politico reports that this week’s summit “is aimed at keeping supporters motivated ahead of tough congressional fights on gun legislation and immigration reform.” Participants will also focus on how to recruit volunteers and learn tactics that have been successful in mobilizing supporters since November.
It will be interesting to see whether and how the president addresses the criticism that by creating and supporting an organization like this, he is setting a precedent for future presidents to go around their own political parties when searching for support and contributing to what everyone from both 2012 campaigns claim is a problem: the growing role of big money in politics.
Will he be able to give such a speech while sustaining goodwill among Republicans on the Hill? While praising the president’s efforts at outreach, Republicans have largely taken a “wait and see” attitude. On Fox News Sunday, Budget chairman Paul Ryan said “time will tell” whether the president’s efforts are sincere. “Will he resume the campaign mode? Will he resume attacking Republicans and impugning our motives? Will he resume what is long believed to be a plan to win the 2014 elections? Or will he sincerely change and try and find common ground?”