Americans for Tax Reform, whose weekly meeting is the center of what Democrats perceive as the vast right-wing conspiracy, has moved to new headquarters with a fancy amphitheater for the secret session Grover Norquist runs.
At the off-the-record, invitation-only meeting each Wednesday, more than 150 representatives of conservative interest groups gather to exchange the latest intelligence on politics, strategy, and issues and to listen to presentations by members of Congress, congressional staffers, political candidates, pollsters, and authors.
“The Wednesday meeting is now a little coliseum where everybody can see everybody else’s eyes,” Norquist tells Newsmax.
In its new digs on 12th Street at H N.W., the tax reform group leases three floors of a building it hopes to buy eventually. Norquist, president of the organization, started the meetings in 1993 to galvanize conservative groups against Hillary Clinton’s health insurance initiative. Back then, only a dozen people attended.
Since the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, the group’s donor base has increased by 50,000 and now stands at 100,000, Norquist says. Now that Obama is president, representatives from the White House and the rest of the executive branch no longer appear to give updates. Instead, the meetings feature more talks by Republican members of Congress, key congressional staffers, and congressional candidates.
Interest in the meetings has intensified since Obama took office. A recent meeting was standing room only for 30 of the 180 attendees.
Those who want to speak call or e-mail Carrie Hale, who manages the 90-minute meetings. As many as 20 to 30 speakers make presentations at each meeting. Often, Hale has so many requests to speak that she has to put them off until the next week.
Each talk lasts three to seven minutes, followed by questions. So far, no one has breached the group’s security precautions.
Norquist, 51, became founding executive director of Americans for Tax Reform in 1985. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard School of Business Administration, he was previously executive director of the College Republicans, chief speechwriter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and executive director of the National Taxpayers Union.
Like an orchestra conductor, Norquist keeps the presentations tight. If a speaker begins to wander into material that is not on point, he motions to wrap it up. When a speaker complains of Democrats’ tactics, Norquist will ask whether Republicans engaged in the same tactics when they were in power. Often, the answer is yes.
Norquist punctuates the talks with an occasional joke and questions that pin down sources of statistics. Although he will lampoon what he calls “the other team,” he keeps the meetings respectful.
If a presenter begins a talk about a particular piece of legislation by saying, “The problem with this bill is . . . ” Norquist cuts him off and asks him to begin by explaining what the bill is intended to do. He interjects observations from his own conversations with GOP leaders.
Often, candidates talk about their own qualifications and issues without referring to their opponents. Norquist will ask them to enumerate the strengths and weaknesses of their opposition.
“The rules of engagement are you talk about what you are doing, not what your hopes and aspirations are,” Norquist says. “I want people to walk out of that room with the best understanding of what is happening in the movement, not what people are thinking about doing.”
Some refer to the Wednesday meetings as the Grover meetings, but Norquist considers that a no-no. “It’s the Wednesday meeting or the coalition meeting,” he says.
Presenters can distribute literature that may be quoted publicly. The meetings take place throughout the year except between Christmas and New Year’s.
Under the group’s umbrella, 52 similar meetings — called Center-Right Coalition Meetings — have been set up in 46 states. The meetings usually take place once a month. Meetings also take place in Japan, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Brussels, Canada, and Austria.
Recently, a new visitor showed up at the Wednesday meeting: Grace, the baby Norquist and his wife, Samah, adopted from Bethlehem.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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