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Need any more proof Congress is done legislating?

By Deirdre Walsh, CNN Senior Congressional Producer
updated 8:52 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
  • Campaigning for midterm election is in full swing
  • Democrats and Republicans aim to appeal to respective political bases
  • Republicans suing Obama, Democrats unveil middle class agenda
  • Control of the Senate is at stake in November balloting

(CNN) -- If it wasn't already clear that Congress is done legislating this year, the scene inside and outside the Capitol on Wednesday illustrated that the midterm elections are in full swing.

Just before the House Rules Committee began authorizing the Republican lawsuit against President Barack Obama, House Democrats gathered on the East Front steps just below the room where that hearing was to take place to unveil their "middle class jump start" agenda.

With their dueling messages, they hoped to energize their respective political bases and propel supporters to the polls in November.

The GOP decision to sue Obama over delaying the Obamacare employer mandate puts the politically-charged health care law -- an issue that motivates the most ardent GOP voters -- front and center.

House Democrats argued in offering their middle class initiative that Republican priorities in Congress were skewed toward wealthy special interests at the expense of working families.

Standing in front of sizable red white and blue convention-style placards with the phrases "Women Succeed," "Affordable Education" and "Make it in America," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra tried to contrast the two political parties.

"You can either sue the president of the United States, or you can do your job here at the House of Representatives and pass laws that help the middle class and working families," the California Democrat said.

Citing the GOP lawsuit as a factor affecting the midterms, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in a Wednesday interview in the Washington Post set an ambitious goal of picking up 25 seats in the House.

Democrats would need to take back 17 seats to regain control, a feat most Democrats concede isn't likely, especially in the sixth year of Obama's presidency. That's when a president's party historically loses seats.

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Midterm focus for Democrats: Women

Congressional Democrats on both sides of the Capitol are directing much of their message toward women, who they view as the critical voting bloc.

Obama won re-election in 2012 with support from 55% of women compared to 44% for GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

In an off-year congressional election, Democrats know they can't expect the same turnout. But they're talking about child care, contraception coverage, and education to maximize their chances.

Democrats unveiled their "100 Day Action plan" on Wednesday, pledging to hold votes on bills focusing on women, if they win back the House. Those measures would be targeted at raising the minimum wage, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and boosting access to early childhood education.

"Our agenda for women and families is 'When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,'" Pelosi said. This is not just the title of our agenda. This is a statement of absolute fact. And our agenda presents a stark contrast to what the Republicans have done to roll back women's rights and limit women's opportunities."

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Dems in the Senate

In the Senate, Democrats seized on the Supreme Court's big Obamacare decision last month that employers of some for-profit companies were not required to provide insurance plans that covered contraception if they opposed on religious grounds. A Democratic bill to reverse that decision was blocked this week.

But the Democratic narrative on the Supreme Court fits with what many in the party have labeled a Republican "war on women." Pelosi and other Democrats emphasized that decision was made by "five men" who were effectively dictating whether or not women could get access to contraceptives.

'Over and over again'

"This is 2014, not 1914. Most Americans thought this was settled long, long ago. But for some reason, Republicans keep dragging us back here - over and over and over again," Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said.

But the GOP is positioned well to retake control of the Senate in November, and top Republican leaders recognized that the issue could damage their standing among women if they didn't respond.

Two female Republican senators -- Kelly Ayotte and Deborah Fischer -- wrote an editorial on Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal arguing Democrats were distorting the issue for political gain.

"Contrary to the misleading rhetoric, the Hobby Lobby ruling does not take away women's access to birth control. No employee is prohibited from purchasing any Food and Drug Administration approved drug or device, and contraception remains readily available and accessible for all women nationwide," the two senators wrote.

Senate Republicans introduced their own counterproposal that would codify that no employer can block a woman's access to FDA-approved contraception.

Hobby Lobby is the retail business that successfully appealed the contraception case.

Supreme Court women lash out at birth control decision

A move to rally Republican base

As the battle over a major women's issue played out in the Senate, House Republicans took their first step to approve a lawsuit arguing Obama violated the Constitution by making changes to Obamacare on his own instead of allowing Congress to act.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions presided over a hearing with legal experts, and insisted the GOP move to sue was not about politics, but about protecting the authority of the legislative branch.

"The separated powers between these branches are there in order to ensure that no one person would trample on the rights of others," the Texas Republican said.

"My fear is that our nation is currently facing the exact threat that the Constitution is designed to avoid. Branches of government have always attempted to exert their influence on other branches, but the President, in my opinion, has gone too far," Sessions added.

But the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter, wasn't buying it.

The suit was being "used to appease members of the Republican party who will not rest until President Obama is charged with articles of impeachment," she said. "This is a partisan, political stunt, timed to peak in the House of Representatives in November right as the midterm elections are happening."

Motivating voters

But both sides believe the suit will motivate voters. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released Web ads on Wednesday targeting 21 Republican incumbents and challengers with this message -- "Tell Republicans: Don't use our taxpayer dollars for your frivolous lawsuit."

As the hearing was about to start, the House GOP's campaign arm tweeted an "urgent" message urging supporters to sign an online petition with this: "Stand with House Republicans as they protect your constitutional liberties and the country from continued executive abuse."

The message was another tool for the campaign committee to gather names and contract information to help solicit money to support their candidates.

Despite the argument by Republican candidates that Obama and his party are failing a competency test on a range of issues from the economy to the immigration crisis at the Southwest border, Obamacare is still a foundation of their campaigns.

GOP candidates are expected to run ads focusing on the health law they despise, targeting specific problems voters in their districts are experiencing with it, such as cuts to a popular Medicare program.

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