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Republicans Heading to Greenbrier Retreat

House and Senate Republicans will leave town for their annual bicameral retreat Thursday, and while accommodations will be plush, lawmakers shouldn’t expect to spend most of the time hitting the links.

The work will begin once the lawmakers step onto the Amtrak train at 1 p.m. Thursday. While en route to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, House and Senate GOP leaders will hold separate sessions to discuss the agenda.

“The Speaker always finds these planning retreats to be helpful and it’s especially useful now that we have the Senate in Republican control,” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

But lawmakers will make time for plenty of entertainment as well as GOP star power. President Bush and Vice President Cheney plan to attend, although, because of security concerns, GOP aides would only say that Cheney would make the first appearance and Bush would follow sometime between Friday and Sunday morning.

Condoleezza Rice was also invited, although she has yet to accept or decline. White House adviser Karl Rove and Political Affairs Director Ken Mehlman, as well as Chief Congressional Liaison David Hobbs and Republican National Committee Political Director Jack Oliver will be on hand throughout the three days.

In between policy and communications sessions, country singer Lee Ann Womack is scheduled to perform Friday night, and retired Washington Redskins star Darrell Green will show up to make a motivational speech during breakfast Saturday morning.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) will trade the responsibility of sponsoring evening bowling sessions on Thursday and Friday nights. Or lawmakers tired of talking policy may decide to take in movie night’s featured film: “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Republican aides are hoping the entertainment provides relief for the hours and hours of shop talk scheduled to dominate the retreat.

On the train ride out, Republican leaders, along with Mehlman and Oliver, will lead a discussion about the party successes and failures last year and will focus on this year’s agenda.

“The purpose of the entire retreat is to sit down with the other body and map out a strategy to post wins on the domestic front and ensure that the president’s message comes through should decision be reached on Iraq,” said Greg Crist, spokesman for House GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio).

On Friday, House Republicans will attend a luncheon session led by DeLay which will discuss this session’s legislative agenda. National Republican Congressional Committee General Counsel Donald McGahn will follow with a review of the new ban on soft money and how that should affect the way lawmakers raise money and participate in fundraisers.

Lawmakers will devote their afternoons to joint House and Senate committee sessions. The chairmen of panels that will play prominent roles this session, such as Armed Services — along with the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means panels — will join forces to lead discussions about such issues as taxes, defense, homeland security and welfare reform.

Blunt and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) will give the annual lecture laying down the voting ground rules to freshmen. Blunt will give the same speech DeLay delivered in the past, where he tells lawmakers why it’s important to support the leadership on procedural votes, and when lawmakers feel they must vote against their leaders, why it’s important to always keep their word.

Blunt and Cantor then plan to hold a humorous slide show and PowerPoint presentation that evening to lighten the mood.

On Saturday, more committee chairmen will discuss how they envision such issues as the budget, the economy and jobs, education and welfare reform, energy and homeland security, playing out this session and how they can avoid potential pitfalls.

As the House and Senate’s chief messengers, Pryce and Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) will lead several tutorials about how best to communicate these issues to the public as well as several media training sessions.

To wrap up the session, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Hastert will deliver a joint presentation Saturday night about their vision for this Congress.

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