EXCLUSIVE – An outside group that backs Republican causes is going up in 12 congressional districts controlled by House Democrats with ads spotlighting the combustible issue of school reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The American Action Network (AAN) on Thursday is unveiling a new issue advocacy campaign that urges congressional lawmakers to support the safe reopening of the nation’s schools. The ads, shared first with Fox News, will be seen in House districts with Democrats who are potentially vulnerable in next year’s midterm elections and who voted in recent weeks against the Reopen Schools Act.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson of Iowa, would have given full federal funding to schools that physically reopen during the pandemic and penalized districts that remain closed.
Congressional Republicans in recent weeks have highlighted the tug of war over the reopening of schools, which has put President Biden’s administration and congressional Democrats in a difficult spot between the competing interests of some teachers unions in major cities, which oppose returning to classrooms without more protections, and parents who desperately want to see their children back in schools. Republicans are increasingly blaming Biden, congressional Democrats and their school union allies for continued school closures.
“Kids are falling behind, yet liberals in Congress seem not to care,” AAN president Dan Conston argued in a statement.
Pointing to scientific studies – including work by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that indicate the risk of COVID transmission in schools remains low when mask-wearing and social distancing measures are in place – Conston charged that “even though the science shows it’s safe for children to return to school, teachers unions continue to keep students locked out of their classrooms. Liberals in Congress — awash in teacher union cash — are picking the unions over America’s kids. Our children have fell behind enough, it’s time Congress supported safely reopening schools now.”
Many teachers unions are demanding more coronavirus testing, vaccinations and other safety measures before returning to in-person instruction. The CDC is expected to release new and more detailed guidance on school reopenings later this week. The president has vowed to follow the science as he gently pushes schools to reopen. But Biden and congressional Democrats also enjoy strong support from teachers and their union leadership.
The new AAN campaign includes billboards close to shuttered schools in the districts of Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria (VA-02), Susan Wild (PA-07) and Andy Kim (NJ-03). Those three House Democrats and nine others will also see digital ads in their districts and what the AAN calls “grassroots phone calls to their district offices.”
The other nine House Democrats are Josh Harder of California, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Haley Stevens of Michigan, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Education and Labor Committee chair Bobby Scott of Virginia, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
The AAN, a nonprofit advocacy group founded in 2010 along with its sister organization, the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), raised over $215 million in the 2020 election cycle. The CLF was the biggest spending among outside groups backing House Republicans, and AAN spent millions advocating for conservative policies on Capitol Hill.
The GOP controlled the House majority for eight years before losing control of the chamber in the 2018 midterms. But Republicans defied expectations and took a big bite out of the Democrats’ majority in last November’s elections and only need to flip five seats in 2022 to regain control of the House. In modern times, the party that controls the White House traditionally loses roughly 25 House seats in midterm elections.