Blunt Seeks Better GOP Messaging

Posted March 30, 2012 at 6:04pm

Sen. Roy Blunt wants to lay the foundation for a Republican Congress that is ready to govern come January 2013.

The Missourian is using his position as GOP Conference vice chairman to streamline communications and coordination between House and Senate Republicans and their staffs in preparation for Senate Republicans to join the House GOP in holding the reins of power in their respective chambers. He’d like to ensure that both chambers are ready to work in concert to pass major legislation addressing the issues Americans care most about. Of course, Democrats are doing their best to make Blunt’s effort a wasted exercise, working to take back the House and hold their four-seat Senate majority in the November elections.

“I clearly think our Members believe that we’ve got to develop a stronger relationship with the House, particularly if we want to be a governing majority,” Blunt said Thursday in an interview with Roll Call.

House and Senate Republicans have generally worked well together since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. On almost every major issue to hit Congress both before and after the GOP won the House in 2010 — Obama’s stimulus bill, health care reform, energy and the debt ceiling — there was little daylight between Republicans across the Capitol. But that coordination broke down in late December over legislation to extend the payroll tax holiday.

Blunt, 62, took over as Senate Republican vice chairman, the fifth-ranking leadership post, in late January, just after the political discord between GOP Members on the payroll tax cut. He spent 14 years in the House, where he served leadership as the Majority Whip — and briefly as interim Majority Leader — providing him with a unique perspective into the leadership dynamics of both chambers.

This could make Blunt well suited for the task he has assigned himself — determining a strategy for how the party should collaborate as a combined Republican majority. As the leader of Mitt Romney’s endorsement whip operation, Blunt could be additionally valuable as House and Senate Republicans seek to coordinate their message with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee going forward — and possibly next year if the former Massachusetts governor defeats Obama on Nov. 6.

“I think I can be helpful in better helping our Members understand what is going on in the House, and vice versa,” Blunt said. The vice chairmanship comes with no designated responsibility and ultimately functions however the Senator who fills it decides.

A GOP lobbyist with relationships in the Senate suggested that the miscommunication between House and Senate Republicans that occurred over the payroll tax holiday extension is unlikely to happen again, at least as long as Blunt is in leadership. “He’s keeping the Senate better apprised of House strategy and vice versa. The House will not ever again be surprised by a mood change in the Senate,” this Republican said.

The Senator’s other priority as vice chairman has been to educate his colleagues about social media and help them use it as an effective tool to communicate with voters as they make the case for a Republican Senate. Blunt said GOP Senators have some catching up to do to match what House Republicans have accomplished using social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

To the extent that Senate Republicans have used social media to communicate, they have done so to varying degrees. Blunt is attempting to bring structure and consistency to how the Conference uses Facebook, Twitter and email and to help each office share strategies that prove effective.

Upon assuming the vice chairmanship, the first thing Blunt did was have his new media director, Lori Weberg, work with each GOP Senate office to determine its proficiency with new media. She meets weekly with staff in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office and Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune’s (S.D.) office to chart new media strategy for the week ahead. Monthly meetings with GOP new media staffers in the House also were instituted.

Each month, Blunt’s leadership office arranges for a new media professional from off of Capitol Hill to speak to GOP new media staffers, and every Tuesday, the Conference vice chairman sends around to Member offices his own “Weekly Online Report” to brief colleagues on what’s trending online and provide new media messaging guidance, such as which tweets or hashtags are trending on Twitter.

Staff working for Blunt and Thune in the vice chairman’s office and at the Policy Committee, respectively, are jointly developing a mobile app, set to launch later this year. It is intended to serve as a one-stop resource, with video, fact sheets and other information about what Senate Republicans are talking about. At the same time, Blunt is planning a daylong new media conference for staffers to be held in August. It is set to feature keynote speakers, panels of experts and breakout sessions to discuss best strategic practices.

Although Blunt is spearheading this effort — even organizing Twitter town hall meetings with GOP Senators last week to coincide with the Supreme Court review of Obama’s health care law — he conceded much of it is new to him. Blunt’s goal, however, is to push GOP Senators to communicate with constituents in the manner in which they reach out to Member offices, which increasingly is through new media.