Democrats challenged Republicans on Monday over the August activities planned for GOP members, part of an emerging battle between the parties over who's having a more active recess.
The two parties jockeyed over their recess plans, with Democrats looking to hit back against Republican efforts to frame August as a month in which embattled Democratic incumbents and candidates would be "running for cover."
Democrats seized on a figure reported on Monday indicating that House Republican lawmakers had planned a total of 400 recess events during the August recess. That figure, which was reported by the Washington Times and Wall Street Journal, paled in comparison to the number of events planned by Democrats, party officials charged.
“So let me get this straight. Washington Republicans are bragging about doing a little more than 2 public events each over the entire six-week work period?" asked Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "I have seen more activity out of a sloth. This is the same laziness and arrogance that caused Washington Republicans to be thrown out of power.”
But Republicans said that the number to which Democrats referred was only a preliminary count of GOP events planned for August and early September.
Voters can "expect plenty more events to be scheduled by the time we get to the end of Democrats' six-week paid vacation," said Matt Lloyd, a spokesman for the House Republican Conference.
At the root of the town-hall battle is an effort by both parties to frame their own efforts as more in touch with constituents, while casting the other party as ducking voters ahead of hotly-contested midterm elections this fall. Town-hall meetings were a major element of last August's battle over healthcare reform, when a number of meetings put proponents of reform on their heels.
“If vulnerable Democrats are holding town halls, that would be news to their constituents who have yet to hear from so many of them this recess," said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). "The fact is most Democrats in competitive races are doing anything they can to avoid talking about their job-killing agenda, even if it means coming back to Washington to vote for more big-government spending at the expense of American taxpayers.”
Both sides provide their own accounts of recess activities. Van Hollen's office has released recaps of recess activities by first- and second-term Democratic lawmakers during each previous recess, and have challenged GOP offices to do the same.
Republicans note that Democrats' numbers could suffer from fuzzy math, too. Lindsay suggested that Democratic offices are defining "town halls" rather broadly, and said that the NRCC's count on the meetings only looked at Democrats in competitive districts. He also pointed to the sheer number disparity between the size of the Democratic majority in the House and the size of the Republican minority. The GOP's "America Speaking Out" website includes accounts of some lawmakers' recess events, though it appears to be a far-from-exhaustive list of activities.
"In stark contrast to House Democrats who have traveled all across their districts, in the past week alone, Republican candidates have been exposed for their fiscal hypocrisy, for holding closed meetings with right-wing fringe groups to win votes, a bankruptcy, and even a prior arrest warrant," said Ryan Rudominer, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman.
Whatever the case, lawmakers' recess plans have been put on a short hiatus this week. Republicans and Democrats alike return for a special summer session on Tuesday to vote on a state-aid bill.