Hoyer heads to the heartland on a ‘listening tour’

Hoyer heads to the heartland on a ‘listening tour’
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Hoyer, the minority whip, heads to the heartland on Friday for what he’s billing as a “listening tour” designed to ascertain the concerns of voters who have shied away from the Democrats’ tent, hone the party’s campaign message and improve its chances of taking back the House next year.
“We need to be doing it and seen doing it — listening to what folks in noncoastal states are saying about what their expectations and what their needs are,” Hoyer said Thursday from his office in the Capitol. “Our policies, in many respects, are consistent with that. And if not, we need to shape our policy so it’s consistent with what people feel will make their lives better. 
“I’m taking a notebook, I’m going to take notes, I expect to speak very, very little,” he said.
The excursion highlights both the difficulty Democrats have had attracting heartland voters and the enduring sentiment among party leaders that, despite eight months under a controversy-laden White House, running against President Trump is not enough to win over the voters the party needs to pick up seats in conservative-leaning districts. 
“It’s not going to be enough — nor is it just appropriate — to say, ‘Look Trump is not doing a good job or we don’t like Trump,’ ” Hoyer said. “What we need to convey is that we have a program.”
The three-stop tour will take Hoyer to Las Vegas on Friday, where he’ll join Nevada Reps. Dina Titus (D) and Ruben KihuenRuben Jesus KihuenRep. Steven Horsford wins Democratic House primary in Nevada Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Nevada Dem sanctioned for sexual misconduct announces city council bid MORE (D) in a discussion on infrastructure; to Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday, where he’ll talk entrepreneurship with Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaOvernight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to limit further expansion of 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump turns to lawmakers to advise on reopening MORE (D-Calif.); and to Peoria, Ill., on Monday, where he, Panetta and Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosTime for a Democratic reckoning on race  Karen Bass's star rises after leading police reform push GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts MORE (D-Ill.) will examine the holes in education and job-skills training.
Hoyer acknowledges a barrier to the outreach effort: namely, by joining Democratic lawmakers in Democratic districts it’ll be difficult to attract the participation of voters who don’t already support the party. But he’s vowing to expand the tour to Republican strongholds in the months to come.
“We’re sensitive to that, and we’ve urged members to invite people who are not necessarily Democratic activists,” he said. “We want to ask them, ‘What do you think we ought to be doing?’ ”
The Democrats, for years, have faced a dilemma: polls show widespread support for their economic policy prescriptions — from a hike in the minimum wage and paid family leave to fighting corporate mergers and expanding access to health care. But after losing the Speaker’s gavel in a 2010 rout, they’ve been unable to translate that public sentiment into election victories, particularly in the purple districts that flocked to Trump last year. 
In July, party leaders ventured to rural Virginia to launch their 2018 messaging agenda — dubbed the “Better Deal” — designed to win over working-class voters by focusing heavily on the economy while largely avoiding mention of the unpopular president and the social issues they fear may alienate heartland voters.
Hoyer, for years, has been pushing his own economic agenda, the “Make it in America” program, which features scores of legislative proposals — most of them bipartisan — he says dovetail with the Democrats’ larger Better Deal platform. He’s scored some victories over the years —19 “Make it in America” bills have become law since 2010 — but acknowledges that the effort won’t go far while Republicans control the chamber.
“They don’t want to make Hoyer’s agenda their agenda. I get that,” he said.
Yet with the Republicans struggling to win major legislative victories — and Trump’s popularity at historic lows for a first-year president — the Democrats smell an opportunity. Emboldened by sweeping victories in state and local elections across the country earlier in the month, party leaders are increasingly optimistic about their odds in next year’s midterm elections. 
“I think we’re going to win back the House notwithstanding the map,” Hoyer said, a reference to the gerrymandering that’s put scores of districts out of play, to the Republicans’ advantage. 
Not all Democrats agree that de-emphasizing Trump is the surest route back to the majority. A small but growing number of liberal lawmakers are pressing to impeach the president — a strategy they say will stir voters to the polls.
“The Democratic base needs to know there are members of Congress who are willing to stand up against this president,” he said. 
Democratic leaders have been cold toward that effort, fearing it may alienate some voters by politicizing ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in last year’s elections. They’re fighting to drag the discussion back to the party’s economic message.
“I’m not one to curb anyone’s enthusiasm for what they believe in, but right now our focus is on defeating this tax bill,” House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUS praises British ban on China's Huawei after pressure campaign Voter fraud charges filed against GOP Rep. Steve Watkins Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday, just hours before the Republicans passed their tax-code overhaul through the House without any Democratic votes. 
“[The] public has questions about the fitness of this president to be president, and that’s a legitimate discussion,” she added. “But our focus, our energy, our purpose is to get a better deal for America’s workers.”
Hoyer agrees, pointing to ObamaCare — which has seen a spike in popularity since Republicans tried, unsuccessfully, to dismantle it — as an example of how voters tend to side with the Democrats’ policies once they learn the details.
“We need to make sure that the American people get that message, and believe it. One way to do that is to listen to them so you [know] what are their anxieties, what are their fears, what are their aspirations. … I can see it with polls, but I want to see it directly with people,” Hoyer said.
“When we get through the listening tour, which may take another year … we’ll put something together that I think will resonate with people,” he added. “Why’s it going to resonate with them? Because it’s what they suggest.
“That’s the theory.”