March 23, 2022
House Republicans head to their annual issues conference in Florida on Wednesday confident about taking back the chamber as they plan their midterm messaging.
The GOP is also hopeful for a much less turbulent retreat compared to one year ago, when Republicans met months after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that showcased splits within the party.
Weeks after the 2021 retreat, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), then the third-ranking House GOP leader, was removed from her leadership spot over her frequent criticisms of former President Trump, whom she blamed for inciting a mob of his supporters to interrupt the Electoral College count by a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
A year later, Cheney and fellow Trump critic Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) remain in Congress as Republicans, but the latter is leaving the House at the end of the year and the former faces a Trump-backed primary challenger.
The conference itself, however, is more unified even as leadership continues to have to address various outbursts from party firebrands.
“You won’t see any fallout now,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had a tense relationship with then-fellow GOP leader Cheney a year ago, said in a press conference last week when asked about this year’s Republican retreat.
Republicans this week hope to put the focus at their retreat on their unified opposition to Democratic-controlled Washington and plans for a House majority. They say that challenges for President Biden and his administration, from inflation and high gas prices to a migration surge at the U.S.-Mexico border, have given them plenty to run against.
“Over the last year, House Republicans have been unified in prosecuting the case against the failed Far Left Democrats’ agenda which has led to crisis after crisis hurting hardworking Americans,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who replaced Cheney, said in a statement. “It has never been more crucial for House Republicans to remain unified so we can fire lame-duck speaker Nancy Pelosi once and for all and put forward solutions to provide a much-needed check on Biden’s reckless administration.”
Still, even as they are unified against Democrats, House Republicans are not quite all on the same page.
A month ago, McCarthy publicly criticized members Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for speaking at a white nationalist conference, which he called “unacceptable.” Last week, he said that Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) was “wrong” for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug.” Those instances and more provide fodder for Democrats, despite their other policy challenges.
Internal friction has at times spilled over into public view. Greene and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) a few months ago feuded over Twitter and in the press over abortion and religion, while Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) in December lashed out at “grifters” in the party who he said misrepresented his policy positions. Beyond public spats, some members in the House Freedom Caucus have pushed leadership to take more aggressive tactics like forcing a government shutdown over vaccine manatees.
Rabble-rousers plan to stay vocal.
“Unity has gotten – it’s a lot better, but I think there’s still work to do,” Greene told The Hill. “Sometimes it takes arguments to get on the same page, and you have to be willing to address the issue.”
Greene said that while she is “constantly attacking Democrats” because “things are so bad,” she is also “willing to hold my conference accountable to do the things that we say we’re about.” Republicans failed to “achieve the things that they should have done” with total control of Washington during Trump’s first term, she said, like building a wall on the border with Mexico.
Despite those squabbles, Republicans hope that public confrontations and primary challenge threats will die down after the retreat.
House Republican Conference Vice Chairman Mike Johnson (R-La.) took an optimistic view of team dynamics.
“There’s a great feeling of esprit de corps right now, I think more so than at any time since I’ve been in Congress,” Johnson told The Hill.
Johnson said that the unusual circumstances of the 117th Congress due to the coronavirus pandemic, making members meet over Zoom and vote by proxy rather than in person, has hindered members’ ability to form good relationships with their colleagues. Getting all the Republicans together at the retreat in Florida may help counter that.
Much of the retreat’s focus will be on McCarthy’s issue “task forces” – informal panels led by his allies that aim to produce policy proposals. The plan is to combine those into a “Commitment to America” policy platform that Republicans can run on for the midterms.
It is inspired in part by the 1994 Contract with America that was spearheaded by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who will speak to Republican members at the conference.
With that, House Republican leadership is taking a much different tactic than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has resisted laying out a policy agenda for a potential Senate Republican majority.
“One of the things on the table for discussion will be the timing of its release,” Johnson said of the Commitment to America plan. “There’s a real interest amongst members to have that product in hand sooner rather than later so they can go out on the campaign trail and do town halls through the spring and summer and talk to constituents, where everyone is effectively singing from the same sheet of music.”
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