House GOP heads to Florida to narrow in on policy plans

No Trump appearance expected

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy conducts his weekly news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on March 18. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy conducts his weekly news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on March 18. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 23, 2022 at 5:30am

In a midterm campaign year that typically favors the minority party in Congress, House Republicans will convene their annual retreat Wednesday in Florida, aiming to home in on policy proposals that members have been considering as they work to regain the majority in November.

The three-day issues conference kicks off Wednesday afternoon in Ponte Vedra Beach at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, which is next door to one of the top destinations in golf: TPC Sawgrass, which hosts The Players Championship, an illustrious PGA Tour event.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in June announced seven task forces focused on issues important to the conference: jobs and the economy; big tech censorship and data; future of American freedoms; energy, climate and conservation; American security; healthy future; and competition with China.

McCarthy said at a news conference Friday that the retreat is “really focused just on our policies.” In addition to the task force work, which have set rosters, Republicans have had weekly meetings open to the entire conference on particular topics, such as making America energy independent.

“We’re going to narrow those down. So it’s really focused, mainly, if you look at our agenda, members’ interaction together,” McCarthy said.

The last time House Republicans were in the minority and angling for the majority, in 2010, McCarthy was joined up with two other rising GOP stars, Reps. Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who dubbed themselves the Young Guns, casting themselves as the future of the party. They published a book with that title, laying out a broad agenda for the party. When Republicans rode a wave election to take the majority that year, Cantor became majority leader at age 47, McCarthy became majority whip at age 45 and Ryan became Budget Committee chairman at age 39.

McCarthy is the last man standing from that trio and would be a front-runner for speaker if the Republicans win the majority in November. Cantor lost in a primary in 2014, bringing an abrupt end to his political career at age 51. Ryan, after serving as the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012 and Ways and Means Committee chairman, served as speaker from October 2015 until he retired after the 2018 election.

Republicans are optimistic about their chances of recapturing power in the House. The majority they captured in 2010 held until the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats captured the House but not the Senate in President Donald Trump’s first midterm election. Currently, Democrats hold a slight majority with 222 members to Republicans’ 210. There are three vacancies, all seats most recently held by Republicans.

McCarthy in 2020 announced Republicans’ “Commitment to America” agenda. On Wednesday, the first night of the retreat, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., will address the conference. Ahead of the 1994 elections, Gingrich and Republicans unveiled their “Contract with America,” spelling out what policy proposals they intended to execute upon taking control of the House for the 104th Congress.

“If we win control, we need to know for ourselves what we’re going to do,” Gingrich said in 1994. Republicans won majorities that year in both the Senate and House for the first time in 40 years, in another midterm election that was unkind to the president’s party, that time Bill Clinton.

“We need to have a team, which arrives in January, already committed to spending the first 100 days in an aggressive, hardworking contract to deliver to the floor 10 bills and to get them to final passage,” Gingrich added.

Republicans have already rolled out certain legislative proposals, including on education, called the Parents Bill of Rights.

Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden on many issues, including rising gas prices and other inflationary costs for Americans. There will be a platform to do so at the retreat, including a rundown of areas to criticize the president on foreign policy, such as last year’s U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, countering China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and attempts to reenter a nuclear deal with Iran.

Condoleezza Rice, secretary of State under President George W. Bush, will speak to the conference at lunch Thursday. Vivek Ramaswamy, author of “Woke, Inc.” and “Nation of Victims,” will address members at dinner that night.

Trump, who lives in Palm Beach, will not attend, McCarthy said, noting that “we’ll see him [Trump] in Dallas. He’s going to do an event for us there,” referring to a May 9 fundraiser for congressional Republican candidates.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney was kicked out of her role as conference chair just weeks after last year’s retreat in Orlando. Since being excommunicated from leadership for refusing to perpetuate Trump’s lies about the 2020 election being stolen, Cheney has played an instrumental role as vice chair on the select House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

When asked about Cheney at a news conference Friday, McCarthy said, “We won’t see any fallout now.” McCarthy endorsed Cheney’s challenger in the upcoming Wyoming primary. A spokesperson for Cheney did not respond when asked if she was planning to attend the retreat. A spokesperson for Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican on the Jan. 6 panel who is a conference outcast, said he is currently on military duty and would not attend the retreat. The Air National Guard pilot is not running for reelection.

The event is organized by the Congressional Institute, which was founded in 1987.