Not much will get done this week in the Senate, as Democrats head out of town to the posh 573-acre Boar's Head Inn estate just outside Charlottesville for an issues conference. They'll be gone most of Tuesday and will remain there until mid-day or slightly later on Thursday.
Aides say it's all business as members discuss issues for the year, so don't expect a pop-in visit from President Obama or Vice President Biden "or any guest of equivalent stature." A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide told Fox, "It will just be an issues retreat with presentations from some outside experts."
With the loss of six seats and a new, loyal opposition running the show in the House, Democrats will likely have a lot to talk about. Republicans have mounted a full-frontal assault on the health care reform legislation passed last year, and some Dems are exploring some major changes to the bill. Sen Chuck Schumer, D-Ny., in his new position as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, the number three position in leadership charged by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., with uniting policy and message, will likely lead most of the discussions, one senior Democratic senator told Fox on Monday.
But will it really be ALL business? Several spouses were spotted boarding the buses loaded in front of the Capitol Tuesday morning. And the luxury resort offers a lot of swank at the fingertips: a spa, 26 indoor and outdoor tennis courts, two squash courts, biking, hiking, restaurants, and an 18-hole golf course. But perhaps many will get stuck in the 22,000 square feet of meeting space at the massive AAA-Diamond resort nestled in the Virginia countryside.
That said, Brian Fallon, spokesman for the Democratic caucus, said emphatically Tuesday, "The schedule is filled with meetings and discussions. There is no time on the schedule for making use of any of the amenities you listed."
A number of senators declined to answer questions about the retreat, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who said he "does not discuss Caucus meetings." Schumer jokingly referred inquiring reporters to his wife, Iris, standing nearby, a deflection that enabled him to jump on the elevator and vanish out of sight.
Journalists will not be able to check up on the members at the retreat, either. According to a spokesman for the Democratic Caucus, "There won't be media access at the facility."
Republicans held a one-day retreat earlier this year, with journalists also not invited, but they did not travel as far as their Democratic colleagues. Just steps from the Capitol, across the street, the GOP met at the Library of Congress.
Retreats have become somewhat taboo over recent years, since both Republicans and Democrats were heavily criticized for posh get-togethers on the taxpayer dollar. In some corridors, you cannot even get aides to call a retreat a, well, "retreat." It's that unpopular with some. But Fallon assured Fox on Tuesday, "no taxpayer funds (are) being spent on the use of the facilities." Instead, Fallon said members covered their own expenses.