By Jessica Holzer - 01/17/07 12:00 AM EST
The press secretaries for the Republican Conference have long been accustomed to gathering every week at the same time and place — 1 o’clock Mondays in the Capitol’s spacious budget hearing room.
It wasn’t free for the group’s kick-off meeting two weeks ago, so Republicans had to traipse to the less convenient Rayburn Gold Room.
For the following two weeks, the group scrambled to find a location for its standing weekly meeting. A flustered aide jumped through hoops to clinch the Cannon Caucus Room for last week’s gathering but failed to secure it again this week and so booked the Gold Room again through Special Events.
It wasn’t until Friday evening that the Speaker’s office called to confirm the availability of the Cannon Caucus room every Monday at 1 p.m.
Shorn of their majority status, Republicans are getting reacquainted with the many hassles of life in the minority. One casualty of the shift in power that few anticipated is the loss of ready access to Capitol Hill’s best rooms for large meetings.
“The [Republican] Conference’s job is to secure a lot of these meetings. We’re pretty adept at it, but it’s not as easy,” one GOP leadership aide said. “Not only do the best rooms get picked and the best times get scheduled more often, typically you have fewer options.”
The Republican Conference is not alone among large House GOP groups in finding it more difficult to wangle a slot for a weekly meeting.
Last week, the Congressional Black Caucus booked the Republican Study Committee’s usual place for its Wednesday afternoon meeting — Room HC-5 in the basement of the Capitol. When phone call after phone call yielded no suitable on-campus alternative, RSC members were forced to hoof it across the street to the Capitol Club.
The downgrade was not lost on the dozens of congressmen present at the gathering. “We are nomads,” one was overheard to remark.
The size of these weekly meetings can vary but tends to be large. Nearly 100 members showed up at the RSC’s inaugural meeting on Jan. 10 and between 50 and 70 press secretaries attended each of the group’s meetings on Monday the 8th and Wednesday the 3rd, sources present at the gatherings said.
Yet demand for large meeting rooms outstrips supply and the best spots, such as the cluster of rooms in the basement of the Capitol and the Cannon Caucus Room, are controlled by the Speaker’s office.
“Is Nancy Pelosi going to choose us over the Congressional Black Caucus?” one RSC aide cracked.
The importance of securing a regular time and place for large weekly meetings cannot be underestimated for maintaining high attendance, which leads to greater cohesion among members, sources insisted.
For example, the RSC declined to book the Cannon Caucus Room for its meeting two weeks ago precisely because it wasn’t free at the regular time.
“We didn’t want to do that; it’s important to meet at the right time,” an aide to the group said.
Strong attendance at the weekly press secretary meeting may be more critical now that the GOP is in the minority, the leadership aide cited above argued.
“Message discipline matters more because media opportunities are fewer and further between,” he said. “To the extent that you have the conference speaking with one voice, you’re better off.”
Republican staffers blamed the frenzy accompanying the changeover of Congress and insisted that standing meeting times and places would soon be established.
“This was a transition week. Everything was on the fly. I think meeting rooms and times will become more stable as everyone adjusts to their surroundings,” said Brad Dayspring, press secretary for Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the head of the RSC.
But at press time, the group still hadn’t secured a regular place for its weekly meeting. Today, it will meet in B-339, but next week’s location is anyone’s guess.