The business community and organized labor are fanning out over the country during the Memorial Day recess, attempting to roust grass-roots support for their favorite candidates and legislative priorities in the waning months of the 111th Congress. They are squaring off on controversial issues such as immigration and free trade.
The labor federation AFL-CIO confirmed late last week that it will be on the ground in Arkansas helping Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D) runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), by today. Early voting in that state starts a week before the June 8 runoff election.
“We’re going to be having a very busy recess all across the country to keep the pressure on our issues,” AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale said in a statement.
Over the holiday weekend, the AFL-CIO was expected to participate in massive rallies protesting Arizona’s new immigration law. On Saturday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was scheduled to speak at a rally in Phoenix, while the group was also planning district-based efforts throughout the week to build support for jobs legislation.
The Service Employees International Union is also making immigration reform a primary focus of its Memorial Day recess activities. SEIU members were expected to descend on Phoenix on Saturday in protest of the state’s immigration law, before heading west to Los Angeles for a planned Memorial Day protest at Dodgers Stadium as the team was scheduled to play against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The union also planned to hold protests this week in the California cities of Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose, as well as Boston, New York and St. Paul, Minn.
Health care will also be a major recess messaging issue, a spokeswoman said.
“Our country has taken incredible steps forward but to make sure we continue on this path of recovery, SEIU’s security officers, janitors, health care and state workers will be rallying and talking to Members of Congress throughout recess,” SEIU spokeswoman Lori Lodes wrote in an e-mail. “Their focus will be on making sure that members understand the critical need states have for extending Medicaid funding and passing comprehensive immigration reform — both necessary to getting our economy working again.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is focusing on the new Democratic health care law and trying to build a groundswell for now-stalled free-trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia that await Congressional action.
During the recess, the group will also hold separate district-based events with Reps. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and Wally Herger (R-Calif.), according to a list provided to Roll Call.
Chamber President Tom Donohue suggested just prior to the recess that when Members return, his group will lobby heavily against a new Democratic-backed campaign finance bill that could hamper the massive trade association’s political activities this fall. Just before the break, House Democrats aborted their plan to bring the DISCLOSE Act up for a pre-recess vote.
The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), is designed to roll back elements of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.
In its 5-4 ruling, the high court in January threw out most restrictions on political advertising paid for by corporations, trade associations and other nonprofit organizations. The chamber claims the bill, which has two Republican co-sponsors, is an infringement on its constitutionally protected free speech rights.
In a briefing with reporters Friday, Donohue further criticized the proposal, calling it a blatantly political play by Democrats in both chambers to game November’s outcome.
“This is not a policy issue — this is a direct, overt effort by the head of the House committee and Schumer, who sort of still thinks he’s the head of the Senate committee, to basically cut a number of people out of the political process,” Donohue said. “These guys looked at the polls and they’re trying to figure out how to cut us and others out of the elections.”
In response to Donohue’s gripes about the DISCLOSE Act, a Van Hollen spokesman said Friday that “either the chamber has been so preoccupied trying to con the American people with misinformation to even bother reading the bill, or they just prefer to operate in the shadows.”
“The DISCLOSE Act is designed to shed sunlight and increase transparency on those entities spending money on our elections. This is an objective that the vast majority of Americans and this Congress supports,” spokesman Doug Thornell said in a statement. “This well oiled campaign of opposition by special interests based in Washington is about as surprising as Lindsay Lohan getting into legal trouble.”
But the DISCLOSE Act isn’t the chamber’s only priority. In addition to campaign finance, Donohue said Friday that his group will continue to lobby on financial regulations, climate change and health care during this recess and into the summer months.