Democratic chiefs of staff gathered on Thursday for a retreat to hash out strategy for the coming year and orient themselves in Washington. One of the key agenda items: “How to Engage Downtown.”
“Downtown” in Washington is a reference to K Street, where the city’s lobbying industry has set up shop. Downtown is the destination for many a chief of staff in their post-congressional career, and that knowledge — as much or even more than campaign contributions — helps shape legislative strategies.
The annual retreat is hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Cheri Bustos, an Illinois Democrat. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., referred questions on the retreat to the DCCC, which didn’t immediately respond. The Washington retreat concludes with a happy hour, at which the chiefs can “meet members of the DC Downtown Community.”
The “downtown community,” on the panel on how to engage with lobbyists, is represented at the retreat by Jonathan Smith, an Uber lobbyist and former chief of staff to a House Democrat, as well as Virgil Miller, a lobbyist with Akin Gump, a powerhouse firm in Washington.
There is no agenda item focused on how to engage with the new progressive energy in the party pushing for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or other sweeping reforms.
The retreat, while part management training, also included political advice of questionable value, sources there said. Fighting President Donald Trump over impeachment or immigration plays into his hands, the chiefs were told, so it’s better to stick to terrain that’s safe for Democrats, such as shoring up the Affordable Care Act and lowering drug prices. Decrying corruption in Washington, they were advised, merely breeds cynicism, which can hurt Democrats.