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Menendez May Revamp Caucus Task Forces

In one of his first major changes as chairman of the Democratic Caucus, Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.) is reworking party task forces and giving consideration to creating a specific panel devoted to crafting a message to help win back the House.

Menendez, who took over the top Caucus spot in January, said he’ll put out a survey of Members as early as this week to get suggestions for overhauling the 18 existing task forces. The changes could be put in place later this month.

The idea, Menendez said, is to design Caucus committees to better develop policy, improve advocacy for those positions and give Members more opportunities to be involved in Democratic decisions.

If it comes to fruition, the New Jersey lawmaker said the new task force would be specifically charged with developing and coordinating the party message on the key issues of the economy, education, security and health care.

Menendez said that in addition to deciding whether new task forces are needed, the survey will help gauge sentiment toward overhauling or even abolishing other panels within the Caucus. He’s also considering the idea of creating special ad hoc task forces which would deal with a specific bill or issue and then dissolve.

“The goal is to make the task force a meaningful enterprise so that Members who dedicate time to it find value in it,” said Menendez. “It would be a vehicle to bring together work products that the Caucus would galvanize around on the key issues we’ll be facing in the days ahead.”

The chairman said there appears to be a need to continue having a task force assigned to Homeland Security since Congress has created a new federal department and a select House committee.

Beyond the issues themselves, Menendez said he’d like the Caucus task force panels to provide opportunities for “new Members and for swing and marginal Members” to have a voice on topics they may not otherwise.

“It would give them a chance to work on issues that are important to their districts and be a leader on some of the issues they may not be able to address in their committee assignments,” he said.

Menendez said the membership of each task force may change after the overhaul. But, he stressed that it will be reflective of the Caucus, representing the “diversity of the Caucus in terms of ideology, race, ethnicity, gender and geography.”

“So, when the task forces work together — by the very nature of the way it is composed — you get an idea of what the Caucus is like,” he said. “That way we’ll be able to get strong support in the Caucus and work on building consensus.”

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