The “8:45 A.M. call,” as it’s referred to by members, began three weeks ago, and it marks a new level in coordination by the White House’s allies at a time when the conservative opposition is struggling for a toe-hold and major agenda items like health care reform appear closer than ever to passage.
The call has helped attempts to link the Republican Party to radio host Rush Limbaugh, and has served as the launching ground for attacks on critics of Obama’s policy proposals. It springs from a recognition of what was lacking in the Clinton years, said Jennifer Palmieri, the senior vice president for communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, one of the groups hosting the call.
“[CAP President John] Podesta’s and my experience was in the White House during the Clinton years, and we didn’t have a coordinated echo chamber on the outside backing us up,” she said. “There’s a real interest on the progressive side for groups to want to coordinate with each other and leverage each other’s work in a way I haven’t ever seen before.”
The call is hosted by Progressive Media, a project of the CAP Action Fund and the Media Matters Action Fund. The project began last year as a launching pad for attacks on John McCain, but failed to raise money for television advertisements, and served in the later days of the presidential campaign as a platform for disseminating opposition research critical of his policy plans. White House officials do not take part in the calls.
The calls are led by its top staffer, Tara McGuinness, who will also head Progressive Media's "communications research and analysis war room" to wage spin and policy wars throughout the day, Palmieri said.
The call has proved particularly effective at coordinating attacks on critics, said Jackie Schechner, the national communications director for Health Care for America Now, a labor-backed alliance of groups that support Democratic efforts to expand health care.
“There’s a coordination in terms of exposing the people who are trying to come out against reform —they’ve all got backgrounds and histories and pasts, and it’s not taking long to unearth that and to unleash that, because we’re all working together,” Schechner said.
When a new group called Conservative for Patients Rights, for instance, launched an ad campaign featuring former health care executive Rick Scott, “There was a discussion about what do we know about this guy and in a very quick period of time we were able to come up with his background,” she said.
Scott, as progressive groups quickly informed reporters, had reportedly been forced to resign as head of the company became known as Columbia/HCA amid fraud charges, and the company eventually paid a massive settlement in the case.
When Betsy McCaughey, best known for her attacks on Clinton’s 1993 health care plan, published a column criticizing Obama, groups on the call coordinated attacks on her recalling questions about her 1993 article and noting her seat on the board of a medical device maker, in which she also owned stock.
The results of the new coordination are perhaps most obvious in the ongoing effort to saddle the Republican Party and its allies with radio host Rush Limbaugh’s hope that Obama “fails.” The Center for American Progress’s blog seized on Limbaugh’s “fail” comment early, as did congressional Democrats, and participants in the call drove it well beyond its obvious political range.
Media Matters, for instance, launched a “Limbaugh Wire” http://mediaatters.org/limbaughwire/; and even the League of Conservation Voters Tuesday released a video in which Limbaugh’s attacks on conservation and global warming theory are played over the talking heads of Republican leaders.
“We know the oil and coal industry are going to spend $20 million this year trying to get their message out there, so us coordinating to get our message out in terms of trying to advance a progressive agenda is a huge opportunity,” said Navin Nayak, the director of the global warming project at the League of Conservation Voters.
Though White House officials do not participate in the calls, Palmieri said, the new infrastructure is closely tied to the White House. Podesta directed Obama’s transition, and Americans United for Change exists largely to run ads promoting the White House agenda. Some on the left, however, remain skeptical of the White House’s embrace.
“When something works for us we'll pick up on it anyway, like the Rush Limbaugh story -- we don't need to be told,” said Jane Hamsher, the creator of the liberal blog Firedoglake. “I think we serve everyone better if we maintain our independence and preserve our ability to pick up on popular sentiment like that, rather than just bang on the same drum everyone else is.”