Mitt Romney’s campaign, GOP leaders ramp up coordination

Congressional Republicans and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign have stepped up their coordination in recent weeks through regular teleconference calls that highlight upcoming announcements and messaging strategies.

The effort is aimed at unifying a party that has been fractured at times over the last 18 months, most notably during the bruising GOP presidential primary.

The weekly conference calls, which include leadership lawmakers and Romney campaign officials, seek to avoid embarrassing blindsides on policy differences, according to GOP legislators.

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Even though Romney and congressional Republicans agree on big-ticket items such as repealing the president’s healthcare law, they have marked differences on other issues, including China currency, Yucca Mountain and term limits for lawmakers.

Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), a member of the GOP leadership team, told The Hill that once it was clear Romney would be the nominee, leaders and staff on the campaign initiated the conference calls to “increase the flow of information” with the “titular head of our party.”

The chairman of the House GOP leadership explained that “once you have a nominee for your party, as Romney is now, by all accounts, then you begin to want to [conference] so nobody is caught unaware.”

The heads-up goes a long way in politics, and the enhanced communication is geared toward getting the most powerful Republicans on the same page.

There is recent evidence that each side knows exactly what the other is about to do.

For example, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill this spring followed Romney’s lead on extending low student loan interest rates. House Republican leaders, who had passed a budget that did not call for the rates to remain at 3.4 percent, quickly shifted their position in the wake of Romney’s call for the rates to be frozen.

A freshly appointed Romney liaison to the House, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), said, “I know that there’s been more conference calls between House and Senate Republican [leaders] and the campaign — to set up the lines of communication and make sure that we are pulling in the same direction.”

It is unclear which members of the leadership team have participated in the calls, though a Senate GOP source told The Hill that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been on one of them.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday refused to answer whether he had participated on the calls, which are organized by staff in his office.

Other lawmakers likewise refused to reveal details such as whether Romney is on the calls or the names of the Romney aides who participate.

However, a source close to Boehner told The Hill that the Speaker talks with “the governor regularly.”

McConnell’s office and the Romney campaign did not comment for this article.

A GOP leadership aide disputed the notion that the calls are for “coordinating” strategy — a situation that could have legal ramifications. Instead, they are used as “messaging” sessions, the staffer said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday was hesitant to say if he had been involved in the conference calls.

“All I can say is that I am talking with folks in the campaign and know that outside of here, there’s plenty of discussions going on about what’s going on on the campaign,” Cantor told The Hill.

The No. 2-ranked GOP lawmaker, charged with scheduling which bills come up on the House floor, reiterated his belief that Romney will win the election. If that happens, there will be a lot of heady issues for a President Romney to tackle during his first days in office.

“There’s a lot of talk that I know … as far as what a lame-duck looks like after a Mitt Romney win, and then, frankly, how we have to foresee the kinds of things we’ll do post-Jan. 1, 2013, and depending on what happens in the lame-duck. We’ve got the fiscal cliff, we’ve got the tax issue, we’ve got the ballooning debt ceiling — these are the kinds of things that obviously are concerning everybody,” Cantor said.

Walden acknowledged there will be times when congressional Republicans don’t agree with Romney’s policy prescriptions.

“At a minimum, it’s OK to be on a different page or even at odds at times, but you don’t want to surprise each other,” Walden explained. “It’s more about establishing good communications and good communication flow.”