The White House and congressional Democrats are teaming up to form an "Immigration Strike Team" to serve as a better-organized rapid response force to counter whatever Republicans do or say about immigration reform in the coming months.
The goal, according to several congressional aides familiar with the plans, is to ensure that lawmakers and administration officials are more closely coordinating talking points and media appearances and using all outlets at their disposal to highlight incendiary comments or controversial legislation introduced by Republicans.
The move comes as the GOP scrambles to avoid another government shutdown while also finding a way to respond to President Obama's decision to change the nation's immigration policy through executive action. Some Republicans have proposed stripping Obama's executive authority; withholding funds for federal agencies that enforce immigration laws; or ending the president's temporary protection for thousands of children of illegal immigrants.
The new strike team project will be bilingual, ensuring that Democrats continue to use their connections to Spanish-media outlets like Univision, Telemundo and popular radio stations in several states to spread their message, said several aides who were familiar with the plans but weren't authorized to speak publicly about them.
The White House and senior Democrats have closely coordinated over the past two years of the immigration debate, but the new plan is bringing in some junior members. It comes as many congressional Democrats blame Obama for the party's large midterm election losses. In response, the White House has stepped out its outreach to members through phone calls, in-person meetings -- even doling out seats on Air Force One as chits to build good will.
On Wednesday, aides for several House Democrats were invited via e-mail to join what aides to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called an "Immigration Strike Team." The message was sent to dozens of spokespeople for several prominent members of the caucus, including members close to Pelosi like Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.); the heads of the Congressional Asian, Black and Hispanic caucuses; a handful of moderate, business-focused "New Democrats;" and some with a large following on social media or on Spanish-language television, including Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Beto O'Rourke (D-Tex.). The e-mail address of at least one White House spokeswoman was copied to the message.
There's no guarantee that everyone invited to join will consent to do so, aides said.
In the Senate, Democratic members of the "Gang of Eight" that wrote the bipartisan immigration bill passed last year will be part of the team, according to aides, along with Democrats from states with large Hispanic populations. That group includes Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), plus Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Ultimately, the "strike team" hopes to better amplify instances like Durbin and Feinstein's appearances on Sunday morning television talk shows and social media -- or Kaine, who is bilingual, posts of support in English and Spanish.
The first formal strike team conference call took place Wednesday afternoon. "It was very much a 'this is a new group, we'll work together in the coming weeks'" kind of call, said one aide. Such calls will continue for the foreseeable future. Up first: The group plans to build interest and attention for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for next week that will explore what Democrats believe are the benefits of Obama's decision to take executive action.