Biden cancels, dozens of House Democrats skipping annual meetings

February 13

Updated and corrected 9:37 a.m.

CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- Maybe it's the snowy weather or the location here on Maryland's Eastern Shore, but dozens House Democrats are planning to skip three days of annual meetings designed to plot strategy ahead of this year's midterm elections.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), center, who is definitely attending this year's meeting. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Aides say 125 of the 201 House Democrats registered for the meetings and that attendance is close to that figure, although that's a lower-than-normal turnout. The no-shows will miss President Obama, who is planning to visit the Hyatt resort here for his third face-to-face encounters with House Democrats in three weeks. (Vice President Biden was also scheduled to speak to the group Thursday, but had to cancel because of the snowy weather in Washington.) And they'll also miss out on closed-door panel discussions, media training sessions and speeches by academics, the head of the World Bank and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, among others.

The absentee rate is notable, in part because 187 of the 232 House Republicans showed up for their meetings at the same resort two weeks ago -- a record-high turnout for an election year, according to GOP leadership aides.

Each House and Senate caucus holds at least one day of closed-door meetings to allow members to discuss policy and political strategy in a relaxed setting away from staff and reporters. But the meetings don't come free. House lawmakers, at least, have to pay for lodging and transportation either out of pocket or by using campaign funds, according to organizers.

Nobody cited the cost, but several Democrats said this week that they've got other plans.

Two endangered Democrats from Florida -- Reps. Patrick Murphy and Joe Garcia -- appeared Wednesday alongside Biden at an event in Miami. They're not expected to fly north for the meetings.

Others facing difficult reelections are focusing instead on official duties. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) "will be doing constituent work," a spokesman said. Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.) said he's conducting an 11-county tour this week to explain the new farm bill to farmers. And Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Tex.) isn't attending because, an aide said, "He uses his weekends to work on issues, meet with constituents in Texas and spend time with family."

The meetings began Wednesday and end Friday -- hardly the weekend.

But other Democrats facing tricky races will be in attendance. An aide to Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) -- one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents this fall -- said the congressman will be in attendance because "There will be issues discussed there that affect Southern Arizona and it is important to him to be involved in that discussion." And Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said she's making the trip in hopes of finding ways to convince Republicans to allow votes on immigration and extending unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans.

To be fair, it's not just the new kids playing hooky. Several long-timers also won't be here. Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), who is retiring after his current term, said he'll be on an official trip to Afghanistan. And Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.), who is stepping down after this week amid years of ethics investigation, also isn't expected to attend.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said he has “caucus fatigue” and would rather stay in his district working on official matters.

"We can hear it all for free every week," he said.

For more on the meetings, read this story.

Corrected: This item has been updated to reflect new attendance figures.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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