One of the largest events is set to take place in Bakersfield, Calif., on Aug. 14, when a two-day caravan of 1,100 vehicles — representing the number of illegal immigrants deported each day — will converge in front of the office of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP majority whip and the third-
ranking Republican in the House.
The goal of the nonstop events, said Frank Sharry, a longtime immigration advocate who runs the organization America’s Voice, is to create “surround sound.”
“We all know that most of this stuff is highly orchestrated,” Sharry said. “We’re not going to leave it to chance. Our opponents are signaling quite publicly they’re going to send people to town hall meetings to yell and scream. The question is, who else speaks up?”
Conservatives said they have no intention of relinquishing the spotlight. NumbersUSA, one of the groups fighting efforts to grant a legal pathway for illegal immigrants, held a conference call last week with more than 58,000 supporters to prepare them with talking points for the recess.
On another front, a coalition of groups including the Tea Party Patriots, ForAmerica, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action is launching a new campaign demanding members of Congress defund the Affordable Care Act.
“This is going to be health-care August again,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, one of the groups that helped mobilize the protests four years ago. This time, the organization is recruiting young people to burn “Obamacare cards” to symbolize their antipathy for the law. (No such cards exist, but the organization has fashioned mock certificates that can be downloaded from its Web site and then destroyed.)
“The perfect storm that created that high participation and frustration in August of 2009, those conditions are with us today,” Kibbe said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of people showing up — not just tea partyers but disaffected Democrats and young people who aren’t getting what they voted for.”
A wave of on-the-ground activism in August is no guarantee of legislative victory in the fall, of course.
“For all of the tea party anti-health-care stuff in ’09, in the end, if you recall, we did pass it,” said communications strategist Brendan Daly, who was a spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) when she was House speaker.
Still, he said, the flood of activism aimed at overtaking this recess underscores a new reality: “Basically, we’re in a permanent campaign.”
Much of the clamor on the ground will be driven by a professional class of political operatives who view the month as a prime business opportunity.
“This has become a big industry, and people have a vested interested in showing off what they’ve got,” said GOP strategist John Feehery, who served as spokesman for former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “The target is the member of Congress, but it’s also trying to get funders involved.”
Lawmakers are not walking into the fray unarmed. Both party caucuses have prepared their members with extensive talking points. House Republicans, who are expected to be the focus of the attention, have been urged to stress the theme “Fighting Washington for All Americans.”
But even as August recess activity intensifies, the opportunity to confront lawmakers face to face is diminishing. Since the town hall confrontations of four years ago, fewer lawmakers are holding open gatherings or widely publicized constituent events, according to advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle.
So activists are using crowdsourcing to track down events and post them online, along with suggested talking points. FreedomWorks unveiled its “Demand a Townhall” Web effort last week, while Americans United for Change launched a similar site called Accountable Congress. The liberal group also is asking supporters to record their encounters with lawmakers and share the videos, hoping to capture moments that fuel a “national narrative,” Woodhouse said.
Still, with so many groups jockeying to be heard this month, it remains unclear whether any issue will dominate the news the way health care did four years ago.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of noise,” Feehery said. “It’s really a bunch of mixed messages that are going to leave members of Congress dazed and confused.”
Plus, he added, “some are probably just going to want a vacation.”
Alice Crites and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.