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McCotter Leaves Message Project

As House Republicans move forward with a rebranding effort they hope will energize and revive their political base before the 2008 elections, one member of their leadership team has removed himself from involvement in a key component of the project.

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) fired off an e-mail late last week to his GOP colleagues seeking to disassociate himself from the “Reasons to Believe” — a yet-to-be unveiled set of policies, principles and messages modeled after the 1994 Republican “Contract with America.”

The rebranding effort is being spearheaded by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). GOP leaders and a group of Members have been working behind the scenes on the project.

In his message to colleagues, McCotter wrote that he personally had informed Boehner of his disassociation with the project.

“I also directly communicated to the Leader how the Republican House Policy Committee will continue its work on a House Republican agenda, so it may be available if our collective leadership ultimately desires one,” McCotter wrote Friday. “Therefore, please direct any future inquiries you may have on this matter to the Leader and his staff. I regret any inconvenience you may have been caused regarding this matter.”

McCotter concluded the e-mail with the phrase “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem.” The Latin phrase describes a journey and has varied translations, one of the more common of which is “out of the shadows and imagination into truth.”

Initially, Boehner tasked McCotter and Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) with heading up the Reasons to Believe effort. Putnam would lead communications while McCotter would cover policy.

The project consists of a half-dozen Member working groups, each of which is devoted to a single issue such as health care, the economy and national security.

“There’s a core group of Members who have volunteered to work on individual subject areas,” Putnam said Tuesday, adding that the groups are responsible for brainstorming the “next generation of solutions.”

In an interview Tuesday, McCotter said he was simply trying to clear up any confusion Members might have about who is involved in the initiative.

He said his belief is that the Reasons to Believe is a messaging and communications project and therefore better left to Boehner and Putnam.

“Boehner was just trying to make sure everyone was involved,” McCotter said of his initial inclusion in the effort. “It’s a communications issue. Hopefully there’s a synthesis at the end of the day.”

McCotter said the Policy Committee continues to focus internally on developing a Republican agenda and that he will be ready if and when the GOP Conference needs it.

“Hopefully at some point leaders will determine they want an agenda,” McCotter said.

As for the difference between the Reasons to Believe effort and his agenda efforts, McCotter said, “One is communication and one is ideation. They’re doing communications. … The communication end of it is not what we do.”

But other GOP leaders do not see the project that way and have described the Reasons to Believe as an all-encompassing policy and messaging effort. Despite that difference of opinion, Republicans sought publicly to downplay the idea of a rift between McCotter and his colleagues.

“This is a leadership and conference-wide effort so, as I understand it, Mr. McCotter asked that it be run out of the leader’s office,” Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy said.

Boehner and McCotter have been personal friends and political allies, and McCotter campaigned hard for the Ohio Republican in the race for Minority Leader.

McCotter said he appreciated Boehner’s effort to be inclusive, but he didn’t need an ego boost.

“I’m not one of those people who need their name on everything,” he said.

Putnam said the entire leadership team is on board with the rebranding effort, though a timeline for the official rollout remains unclear.

Putnam said his hope is that the Reasons to Believe working groups would have their work completed in time for discussion at the next House GOP retreat, early next year.

This isn’t the first time McCotter has caused his fellow leadership team heartburn as the minority party seeks to present a united front.

During a presentation to conservative bloggers at The Heritage Foundation this summer, McCotter suggested that he and Boehner were doing more to advance Republican principles than Blunt and Putnam were, without naming them directly.

McCotter is an eccentric character who is prone to invoking the works of poet William Butler Yeats or philosopher Albert Camus when he takes the mic at the weekly conference meetings. A guitar player in the bipartisan House rock band, The Second Amendments, he also is known for his music analogies.

His missives to colleagues have also been known to provoke head-scratching.

In a stream-of-consciousness “Dear Colleague” letter circulated during his first bid for Policy Committee chairman last year — which he lost to Putnam — he described himself as “a bald, guitar-twanging backbencher on four ‘B-committees’ from a borderline district in a ‘blue state.’” He concluded the letter by telling his colleagues that if they opted not to support his candidacy, “it’s cool.”