House Democrats Regroup

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It’s been a tough two years for House Democrats. Legislative victories won on difficult votes piled up in the Senate mire and it was members of the lower chamber who bore the electoral brunt when voters stripped them of their majority in November. With Republicans now setting the agenda, those iniatives that made it into law are being challenged. And representatives are still coming to terms with the brutal shooting of one of their own members earlier in January. But for all that, Thursday and Friday’s House Democratic issues retreat in Camden, Maryland was a relatively sanguine affair.

Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel unveiled their “Drive for 25” effort to return to the majority, and, at least publicly, much of the talk was sunny. “I see a tremendous pathway for us to be successful in 2012,” Jim Clyburn said Thursday, citing President Obama’s improved poll numbers and lengthening coat tails. Gone too was any sense of tension between Obama and House liberals, who butted heads last year over what the latter viewed as a series of unnecessary consessions from the president to Republicans. “I don’t think there is a lot of sunlight between this president and the House Democratic caucus,” Clyburn said.

On Friday night, Obama made the quick helicopter trip to Camden. “He is thanking them for how much they accomplished in the last two years and for the hard work he knows they’ll be doing these next two,” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters outside the closed-door meeting. An attendee told TIME Obama posed for a few photos, said a few words — saving his best lines for Tuesday’s State of the Union addrress, he joked — and briefly hit the dance floor with Reps. Jan Schakowksy, Nydia Velázquez and Pelosi to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” before shuffling out.