How Jim Messina, and the White House, brow beat liberal groups into submission

How Jim Messina, and the White House, brow beat liberal groups into submission

Interesting profile of former White House deputy chief of staff, and now Obama re-elect campaign director, Jim Messina by Ari Berman at the Nation. Joe covers the gay civil rights (DADT) aspects of the article over on AMERICAblog Gay. Here I wanted to highlight how Messina, on behalf of the White House neutered, and in some cases tried to neuter to no avail, liberal groups trying to push for more progressive, and better, legislation.

First, how the Campaign for America’s future caved to the WH early on.

In March 2009 the Campaign for America’s Future, a top progressive group in Washington, launched a campaign called “Dog The (Blue) Dogs” to pressure conservative Blue Dog Democrats to support President Obama’s budget. When he heard about the effort, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, who was regarded as the Obama administration’s designated “fixer,” called CAF’s leaders into the White House for a dressing down, according to a CAF official. If the group wanted to join the Common Purpose Project, an exclusive weekly strategy meeting between progressive groups and administration officials, CAF had to drop the campaign. We know how to handle the Blue Dogs better than you do, Messina said. Not wanting to sour its relationship with the White House at this early date, CAF complied, and the campaign quickly disappeared from its website. Despite Messina’s assurance, however, the Blue Dogs would remain a major obstacle to the realization of the president’s legislative agenda.

Next, HCAN.

“Messina wouldn’t tolerate us trying to lobby to improve the bill,” says Richard Kirsch, former national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the major coalition of progressive groups backing reform. Kirsch recalled being told by a White House insider that when asked what the administration’s “inside/outside strategy” was for passing healthcare reform, Messina replied, “There is no outside strategy.”

It’s not terribly clear that HCAN fought nearly hard enough for a better bill. Where were our Harry & Louise health care ads? But at least the next graf suggests that HCAN didn’t totally kowtow to the White House:

“The aggressive suppression of outside pressure was done by Messina,” he adds. “I can’t imagine that the president knew about it.” Messina and his allies tried to stop HCAN from sending a letter to senators expressing displeasure with Baucus’s bill and also tried to prevent the group from running a TV ad praising the House version of the bill. HCAN’s organizer in Montana, Molly Moody, was banned from Baucus’s office and prevented from attending his public events. (Baucus’s office did not reply to a request for comment.) “This is something Messina did in Montana—any group that did any outside pressure on Baucus was iced out,” says Kirsch. “He did the same thing with HCAN in the White House.” When he worked for Baucus, Messina even kept a list of his political enemies on an Excel spreadsheet. “Ultra-paranoid behavior is very much a hallmark of Messina,” says Ken Toole.

Oh that the White House fought back nearly as hard against Republicans and conservative Democrats out to ruin their agenda.


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