Obama, top Senate Democrats discuss priorities, message

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Days after his administration acknowledged Democrats could face dismal electoral losses this fall, President Obama summoned 15 Senate leaders from his party to the White House on Tuesday for what became a two-way handwringing session as they strategized on priorities.

White House officials and senators met hastily to discuss the party’s strategy and message as political analysts suggest both the House and Senate could suffer substantial losses and as Obama’s own poll numbers are dropping.

Based on descriptions by White House officials and others, the discussion encompassed jobs, Wall Street regulations and unemployment benefits as well as energy legislation and other possible legislative measures.

But it was characterized more as a political meeting than a legislative work session.

“We just talked about what we’re going to be working on the rest of the year — of course jobs is No. 1,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “There were a lot of discussions about a lot of things, but it was very much focused on jobs.”

Party leaders also tried to improve the gloomy prognosis. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, reversing course from comments he made over the weekend, said Tuesday he now believed Democrats would retain control of the House, a sentiment shared by the House majority leader, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

But the White House meeting tapped into worry over the electoral outlook as well as the lack of a unified Democratic message to voters, according to those familiar with the meeting.

Senators and White House officials discussed the need for the party to articulate a common message about their accomplishments over the last two years, as well as their priorities for the future.

Obama plans to meet with House Democratic leaders Wednesday.

Congressional Democrats long have complained about the message coming from the White House, saying that Obama’s criticism of Washington culture undercuts their political livelihoods. They would prefer Obama attack their common enemy: Republican opposition.

With limited time remaining before lawmakers leave Washington to campaign full time, Democrats strategized about the best use of the remaining days to accomplish their goals and connect with voters before the election.

Democrats appear set on bringing an energy bill to the floor in July.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) outlined the broad provisions of an energy bill Tuesday. The legislation will probably impose a cap on pollution from power-generating plants, raise energy efficiency standards and respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis.