Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 24, 2014

McMorris Rodgers Works to Rebuild, Rebrand Party Image, One Republican at a Time

GOP leadership conference 8 102913 1 445x295 McMorris Rodgers Works to Rebuild, Rebrand Party Image, One Republican at a Time

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Cathy McMorris Rodgers has two major goals: changing how Republicans sell themselves to the American people and how Americans view the Republican Party.

But the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference has seen firsthand that she faces an uphill battle to undo decades of learned behavior within the ranks of the Grand Old Party.

Since taking the helm of the House GOP’s de facto public relations department at the start of the 113th Congress, McMorris Rodgers has revolutionized the party’s interactions with Latino voters — only to see the party’s image take a hit every time a Republican lawmaker uses inflammatory rhetoric about illegal immigrants.

The Washington Republican acknowledged during a recent sit-down interview with CQ Roll Call that she has had “frustrations” with members who don’t stick to leadership-sanctioned talking points to promote a kinder, gentler party, those who are older and set firmly in their ways. She also said she “cringes” when people say her success is due only to her gender or that because she’s working behind the scenes she must be a lightweight with little clout.

She hasn’t given up hope, though, that with enough hand-holding, her colleagues will eventually see the light, a healthier public perception of the GOP will prevail, and she will have played a part in turning things around.

“It’s been months now that we’ve been encouraging, challenging our members, you know, ‘Tell the story, we’re collecting stories,’” McMorris Rodgers said, her voice taking on the upbeat but weary tone she uses when imploring colleagues, for perhaps the 10th time that week, to direct constituents who have been negatively affected by Obamacare to contribute accounts of their experiences to her online repository of personal anecdotes. (That’s gop.gov/yourstory, for those keeping track, and McMorris Rodgers’ office says she has collected more than 25,000 responses.)

“We’re highlighting some of the members that do it well and really trying to reinforce [it],” she continued. “Clearly, there’s still more work to do.”

McMorris Rodgers ran to become conference chairwoman because she wanted to “change the tone” of the Republican Party, to repair a GOP brand that she said had “been damaged” after elections in 2008 and 2012.

“We’ve allowed our opponents to define us in ways that are not appropriate and not accurate,” she said. “It’s fair to say we often argue facts and figures and we also need to argue from the heart … and make sure that people know that we do care, that we do understand, that we’re fighting for policies that are going to make their lives better.”

She followed her own advice when delivering this year’s Republican response to the State of the Union. Nationally unknown until that point, McMorris Rodgers chose to introduce herself to America not as a senior lawmaker, but as a farmer’s daughter who worked at McDonald’s to put herself through college and as a working mother of three young children, one of whom has Down syndrome. It was either that or “rattle off the committees on which you serve and the bills you introduced and got signed into law,” she said.

“The people are gonna relate to you more based on your personal experiences. … I would put my background, my experience, my work on Capitol Hill, my leadership on a number of issues up against any other member, OK?

“Having said that,” she continued, “I also think the Republicans recognize we have to be presenting a diverse face, and I think it’s smart that we show that we have women.”

Democrats ridiculed McMorris Rodgers for being selected only because she is a woman in a male-dominated party desperate to appear diverse. The Washington Republican said its among her “biggest challenges” to frequently combat accusations she is just a “token woman.”

“I do think Republicans wanted to have a woman out front,” former Rep. Connie Morella, a Maryland Republican who is now president of the Association of Former Members of Congress, said. “If you don’t have women there, what kind of party are you?”

As one behavior-changing tactic, McMorris Rodgers has created an environment where any colleagues resistant to exploring new ways to connect with different constituencies can no longer say they don’t know how to engage.

In the McMorris Rodgers regime, lawmakers have no shortage of resources at their disposal. Her suite of offices on the second floor of the Cannon House Office Building is half war room, half political consulting firm, and 14 full-time staffers make themselves available to members for guidance and support.

Aides have expertise in the realms of niche media markets, meaning they can help get lawmakers booked on TV shows and mentioned in newspapers geared toward nontraditional GOP voting blocs: Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, women or young people. And everyone knows everything about communication tools, from the traditional to Twitter and Vine.

McMorris Rodgers doesn’t appear resentful of having to take such a hands-on approach, though a real concern might be whether her gospel has staying power. If she goes away, will members take initiative on their own?

“Look at the series of meetups that we have organized with different segments of the population — the Millennial Meetup, the Hispanic, the Vietnamese, the Korean,” said McMorris Rodgers of the series of Washington, D.C.-based symposiums she has hosted to bring diverse constituencies to the Republican table. “We are challenging our members to invite people from their districts to participate here, and now the next step is for them to actually do it in their own districts.”

A case study could be Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who recently made headlines by holding a Spanish-language town hall on immigration on his own turf. Nearly 150 constituents attended, McMorris Rodgers said, and it was made possible by the House Republican Conference and its Latino media coordinator, Wadi Gaitan, who actually drove down to South Carolina to provide support.

“Give them all the credit,” Mulvaney, who often aligns himself with the tea party, told CQ Roll Call. He said that his constituents have rewarded him.

“I’ve done three or four NAACP meetings, and we have another one scheduled for this spring,” Mulvaney said. “It’s been very well received, … not necessarily by the hard right of the party but overwhelmingly the folks back home approve of what I’ve done.”

McMorris Rodgers suggested she is always thinking strategically about whether the House Republican legislative agenda reflects an evolving, more inclusive GOP. Without tipping her hand on what could happen on the floor when it comes to immigration legislation, McMorris Rodgers said the party “cannot allow ourselves to be defined as the anti-immigrant party.”

She is working with other members of GOP leadership to produce an alternative health care bill to the Affordable Care Act, one she hopes will be introduced, even as a discussion draft, before the midterms.

“I think it’s important that the Republicans are presenting a path forward on health care,” she said. “Despite the Democrats’ continued drumbeat to suggest Republicans don’t have any solutions on health care, we do.”

Like any smart and seasoned politician, McMorris Rodgers was coy when asked about her political aspirations: “I’m excited about what we have been doing and accomplishing and I want to continue to be on this team and do what I can, and whatever role that may be moving forward, I’m not sure.”

Former Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., has her own predictions for her former colleague.

“She [has] realistic and achievable ideas … grit, grace and patience,” said Bono, now a consultant, “all of which will serve her quite well and will pay off in the long run.”

  • Janet Nevada

    Yep. CMR got off to a great start with her bogus ACA “vicitim” Bette, during the State of the Union response. If she is the best they have to offer, the Republicans are in big trouble. Nice to see Roll Call continue to cheerlead for Republicans.

    Oh, yeah, that’s right. She IS the best Republicans have to offer…

  • Manaphy

    CMR is a RINO.

    • Progressive Republican

      They’re nearly all RINOs, Real Republicans are virtually extinct.

  • Linda McHenry

    We want representation, not a smoke & mirrors sales job.
    https://www.facebook.com/DumpCMR

  • AnthonyLook

    A woman in the Republican Party is going to change how Republicans sell themselves and how Americans view the Republican Party; on the face of it, it’s already a failure; the men will never listen or take her seriously or even care what she has to say.

  • GraceD

    “Cathy McMorris Rodgers has two major goals: changing how Republicans
    sell themselves to the American people and how Americans view the
    Republican Party.”
    These goals are just surface items. The republican party must change its policies & platform to attract people.
    Frankly, I do not see how any thinking woman could be a republican. ( I do realize a lot of married women, just vote the way their husbands do.)
    But, looking at republican actions & their treatment of women should be enough to turn them off.
    As an independent, I will not vote for any republican until & unless the party changes. And I don’t just mean talk.

    • hacimo

      Do you mean you want them to accept abortion and take the feminist line on other “reproductive” issues?

  • Michael Nunez

    Where unleashed by liberty, the impersonal forces of competitive free enterprise are proven to deliver better standards of living than those preaching centralized control could even begin to imagine.

    • http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=PerryLogan Perry Logan

      I disagree. If you unleash the forces of competitive free enterprise without government control, the rich will take it all! This is what has happened to us.

      To put it another way: If you don’t socialize it, the rich will steal it.

  • Progressive Republican

    If she really wants to rebrand the GOP, she has a very uphill slog ahead.

    First, they seriously need to quit deifying Pres. Ronnie who threw the doors open for the flood of illegal aliens in order to further corporate America’s anti-union agenda when he said, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” on Oct, 28, 1984

    Second, she needs to get them to re-embrace their founding principles of fiscal and social responsibility; concepts they clearly abandoned by the mid-1880s.

    This means realizing and admitting the fallacy of their current politico-socio-economic stance and proceed to do what’s best for America, as opposed to their current corporate masters.

    I’m not holding my breath.

    • hacimo

      Reagan also said that the 1986 amnesty was a one time deal, that illegal immigration would be stopped and that it would never be repeated.

      • Progressive Republican

        Yeah. He said and did a lot of [crap]. Pretty much exclusively.

        • hacimo

          Why are you Reagan haters such small minded little fools. Surly after all these years you could let it go. But I suppose when you have been so throughly discredited and refuted it is hard to accept. Still at some point you need to wrap your head around the idea that he saved the US economy by revamping the tax code, ended inflation and unemployment and the misery of the Carter recession. He grew the national GDP by 10 fold, He ended the post Viet Nam defeatism, rallied the courage of the nation and won the cold war. He was undoubtedly the greatest president since FDR. So he made a mistake about illegal immigration and amnesty. He was a mush-headed softy when it came to poor mexicans. No one is perfect.

          • Progressive Republican

            Wow. Nice job regurgitating discredited FRWNJ revisionist propaganda. Got those talking point memos memorized real good, eh?

            What’ll you do for your next trick?

          • hacimo

            what is FRWNJ?

          • Progressive Republican

            [Frigging] right-wing nutjob.

          • hacimo

            how droll.

          • Deerinwater

            I like your posting hacimo.

            unlike so many others, you offered the board some substance and framed some topics that can be targeted for serious debate.

            You say; “Still at some point you need to wrap your head around the idea that he saved the US economy by revamping the tax code, ended inflation and unemployment and the misery of the Carter recession. He grew the national GDP by 10 fold, He ended the post Viet Nam defeatism, rallied the courage of the nation and won the cold war.”

            With administration did indeed do these things and ewed by many as being masterful and an able Statesman for them. Allow me to take them one by one in the order that you offered them and rebuttal.

            “at some point you need to wrap your head around the idea that he saved the US economy by revamping the tax code, ended inflation and unemployment and the misery of the Carter recession.”

            First off, ~ it wasn’t actually Carter’s recession but Nixon’s and inevitable as he ended the VN war and Federal post war spending declined.

            Carter was popular enough by voters and cleaver enough to win the election but he was not well received on the Hill by either party. getting sideways with Tip O’Neil , he cooked his goose. ~Cater could not make entrenched power come to heel. While are the same time Opec nations and import oil supply turned bothersome. ~ The Middle East, including Egypt and Israel~ demanded attention ~ while Cater was as ineffective in dealing with inflation as Nixon was.

            The election of Reagan things did change what Carter office left undone as in regard to the economy. As you say, shifting tax burden off of some and on to others and favoring the investment dollar over the earned dollar did have a positive effect on the economy. Coupled with pumping Federal money by the train load into the military complex to beat down the Soviet Union ~ recession problem resolved!

            Here is the problem, as I see it. ~ after 30 years of this shifted tax burden off the investment dollar and on the earned dollar has created a Hugh disparity.

            If these taxing policies had been resented once the economy took off and stability was restored, we American’s would not find where we at at today.

            These few 2% of American’s now have enough money to threaten our political system with the gains they have accumulated over the last thirty years.

            America now has two welfare systems , ~ one for the rich and one for the poor. ~ with only one of them having the means to defend their position.

            Think about it for a minute.

            Reagan was a good man and a good President that made a deal with the devil. ~ he would not like what he sees today.

          • hacimo

            Truly sad. Feel sorry for you.

          • Deerinwater

            Well you shouldn’t and that ‘s the worst excuse for a rebuttal to a framed argument I think I have ever seen before.

            I was hoping that you might have actually had something to say about the issues and defended your position.

            This more of a concession.

          • hacimo

            I really don’t have time for this. Some other day it might be amusing.

          • Deerinwater

            understood.

  • Don

    Here is all we need to know about Cathy McMorris Rodgers:

    “As chair of the House Republican Conference, she won her seat with the help of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).”

    “She has drawn flak from the Tea Party for her outspoken support of immigration reform.”
    You aren’t going to “rebuild” or “rebrand” anything, Rodgers, because liberal Democrats are already pushing what you want. You are not going to be able to sell your vision of a Republican party which is “Democrat Lite”!

  • Beeker

    McMorris Rodgers ran to become conference chairwoman because she wanted
    to “change the tone” of the Republican Party, to repair a GOP brand that
    she said had “been damaged” after elections in 2008 and 2012.

    It has been damaged since the 1980′s not after the elections in 2008 & 2012. Even then, the party has to deal with the underlying people who votes in primaries. She got off to great start with her “fake victim”, Bette which she was grasping at straw to justify her argument when the media found the “real” Bette.

    She is working with other members of GOP leadership to produce an alternative health care bill to the Affordable Care Act, one she hopes will be introduced, even as a discussion draft, before the midterms.

    According to the information they presented, Medicare spending would increased by $83B due to repeals of taxes to pay for it. Another problem is those who are pre-existing don’t have continuous coverage will get insurance but at a higher rate thereby nullifying its effect.

  • Jon McCasper

    Of course, if one wished to distribute others’ income in an unfair manner, say among political supporters, the same centralized power would be needed as that required to pursue the subjective notion of fair income distribution.

  • 2formetoo

    Actually, McMorris, we call you the AMNESTY branch of the GOP. We are sick of the “traditional leadership” spouting their pro-amnesty propaganda which we ALL know we cannot afford to do at this time w/ so many Americans out of work and using our scarce and unaffordable benefits!!!

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...