Not all House Democrats are up on their leadership's playbook

Three weeks have passed since congressional Democrats announced their “New Direction for America,” the domestic agenda they propose should they win control of the House or Senate, but some Democrats apparently still haven’t gotten the memo. 

Asked Thursday to comment on their agenda, a half-dozen House Democrats remained fuzzy on the particulars.

“The new model, etc., etc?” faltered Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“I haven’t even looked at it,” admitted Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). “I’m not very good at talking points.”

“I like mine better,” Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) declared while looking over a list of the Democrats’ six priorities as if it were the first time he’d seen it.

House and Senate Democratic leaders unveiled the agenda mid-June with some fanfare. They held a press conference, wrote letters to their colleagues, talked it up in caucus meetings, distributed laminated talking-point cards and plugged it in an exclusive interview with USA Today.

“This is a watershed moment,” the leaders wrote to their colleagues June 13. “Democrats are listening to what matters to the country, and have united behind a positive agenda that will get America back on track.”

On Thursday they drove the point home again with an encore press conference held before easel displays proclaiming “New Direction for America” 21 times. The six-pronged agenda proposes providing affordable healthcare, lowering gas prices, raising the minimum wage, lowering the cost of college, preventing Social Security privatization and restoring fiscal responsibility.

Still, even by later in the day Thursday, the message had yet to saturate some areas of the Democratic caucus, an unsettling situation for a party that often laments the fact that it must compete for press attention with the president’s bully pulpit.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) said he was not sure what agenda had been unveiled weeks earlier and reprised an hour before.

“What was presented today?” he asked, brow furrowed, while noting that a “fish crisis” in his district had kept him from staying current.

It wasn’t until presented with a laminated talking-points card that he perked up. “Oh! Good stuff!” he exclaimed.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) started off slow — “Which slogan are you referring to? — but rallied gamely, expounding on the virtues of the “New Direction.”

“I think it is a potent phrase. Do you want more of the same, or do you want a new direction? I think it’s a very powerful message,” he intoned.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), senior Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, handled an inquiry with aplomb, pronouncing the agenda “excellent.”

“It gives the Democrats a platform so they can talk about energy, economic security, healthcare. We need a new direction in America!”

Hours earlier, Pelosi had described her colleagues as “very enthusiastic” and “excited” about the “New Direction” slogan and agenda. “It’s interesting because they have been positively enthusiastic about it — not just acquiescing to it, but positively enthusiastic about it.”

Those who know what it is, that is.

One Democratic member lamented that too few Democrats attend their caucus meetings when such agenda items are presented.

“People don’t come to caucus. That’s the problem,” the member said.

The record attendance for the caucus meeting, set earlier this year, was a mere 102 of the 205 eligible Democrats.

Some Democrats grumbled last week that the problem lies with the new slogan itself.

“It’s not good. It’s not punchy enough,” a Democratic aide said. “It’s uninspired.”

The “New Direction” message largely replaces an earlier slogan, “Together, American can do better,” which had received a lukewarm reception in some Democratic circles and has since been relegated to secondary status in press releases and public statements.

“There are always complaints unless the slogan — ... the direction is created by that person,” Pelosi said.

Democrats will get another chance to learn the details of the “New Direction” this week. Pelosi sent them home with an 83-page packet describing it.