A historic snowstorm may have canceled official work in Washington, but House Democrats are plowing ahead with their annual legislative retreat in Baltimore, starting Wednesday.
The three-day conference, which comes on the heels of congressional Republicans’ own winter confab in the city earlier this month, doesn’t include the Senate Democratic caucus. But it does feature a roster of speakers from the political and media worlds intended to offer Democratic lawmakers new perspectives as they prepare for a year where House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised to aggressively outline a GOP policy platform.
Keynote addresses from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden top the agenda. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are scheduled to meet with both White House leaders Tuesday to map out legislative strategies for the administration’s final year in office. Already, it appears student loans are in the mix.
According to a preliminary lineup of the retreat speakers provided by Democratic staff, other key presenters include AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who notably led the charge against granting the president fast-track trade authority for his then-imminent Trans-Pacific trade agreement.
In a year where intraparty blowups were typically the hallmark of House Republicans, the debate over granting Trade Promotion Authority proved to be one of the few issues in 2015 that seriously divided Democrats. The AFL-CIO and other labor groups loudly opposed it, seeing it as a stepping stone towards the approval of a multi-nation trade deal that many on the left fear will ship jobs overseas. That debate continues.
Despite intense lobbying from administration, all but a handful of House Democrats split with the president on the trade issue. Obama eventually got his fast-track authority with the unusual backing of House Republicans and a larger portion of Senate Democrats, but the deal itself is still subject to a final up-or-down vote in Congress.
Daily Show host Trevor Noah, who is only months in to taking the reins of Comedy Central’s late-night political satire show from Jon Stewart, will also address members. So too will Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who founded NextGen Climate, a 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to supporting political candidates with a strong commitment to the climate change movement.
House Democrats will hear from political experts Monica Gil, a member of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s campaign team. She now leads Nielsen’s multicultural and Hispanic marketing efforts. Also in the lineup is Jill Hanauer, president of the Democratic political strategy firm Project New America, and Heather McGhee, who is the president of the progressive public policy organization Demos.
Other listed speakers include Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles, author Simon Sinek and Salman Khan, the founder of the online-learning organization Khan Academy.
“We’ve got top notch speakers lined up for dynamic policy discussions, from experts Salman Kahn, Richard Trumka and Tom Steyer to stars from other fields, such as Tom Toles and Trevor Noah and Simon Sinek,” said House Democratic Chairman Xavier Becerra of California in a statement. “The weather will not get in the way of our caucus coming together.”
The theme of the conference is “United for opportunity.”