3 takeaways from GOP huddle


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — House Republicans – well, some of them – huddled at their annual retreat in West Virginia this week to plot their course for defending and expanding their razor-thin majority. But they couldn’t ignore the turbulence that has rocked Republicans in Congress for months.

GOP leaders sought to portray a united front against President Joe Biden’s administration and recent Democratic victories. But those efforts came as the conference has struggled with deep divisions that has at times brought the House to a standstill.

Little illustrated that discord better than the sparse attendance at the retreat: Fewer than 100 of the House’s 219 Republican members trekked out to the historic, luxury Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Privately, lawmakers have expressed feeling deflated by their party’s struggle to govern.

Those who attended met on a wide range of issues, from the presidential and congressional elections to artificial intelligence and reproductive rights.

Still, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., did address the fractures that have roiled Republicans. The speaker took aim at the handful of rowdy hard-right rebels who have often been a thorn in his side, saying Thursday: “It’s not the time for long Hail Mary passes for every play.”

Instead, “it’s three yards and a cloud of dust,” Johnson said, noting that Republicans narrowly control only one chamber of Congress.

Ultraconservative lawmakers have pressed leadership to fight for for significant conservative policy wins despite the political reality of divided government. “This is an incremental thing that we have to do to change Washington and how it works,” Johnson said.

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., (L) speaks as House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., (R) listens during a House GOP leadership news conference at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., (L) speaks as House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., (R) listens during a House GOP leadership news conference at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., (L) speaks as House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., (R) listens during a House GOP leadership news conference at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

IVF, abortion will take center stage this election

House Democrats have made clear – including at their own retreat last month – they plan to hit Republicans hard on abortion and reproductive care on the campaign trail. They’ve doubled down on that since an Alabama Supreme Court ruling forced Republicans to grapple with the consequences of politics based on the perspective that life begins at conception.

And since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in 2022, Republicans have also struggled to articulate a clear position on abortion rights, suffering continuous blows in elections.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has been long been less vocal about restricting abortion than other conservative Republicans. While he lauded the end of Roe v. Wade in 2022, he has also criticized 6-week abortion bans backed by other GOP leaders.

But after repeated losses, House Republicans are hoping to turn the tide on Democrats.

“We believe it’s important for our members to engage on this issue and not stick their heads in the sand,” House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the No. 4 ranking House Republican, told a group of reporters on Wednesday.

Stefanik acknowledged that “some potential candidates in the past” have failed to present a clear message on abortion.

Underscoring the conundrum Republicans find themselves in on the issue, Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., a vulnerable member representing a district President Joe Biden won in the 2020 election, signed on to a Democratic-led bill this week enshrining protections for IVF. In response, Stefanik simply said members were free to back to whatever bills they support.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., also encouraged members at the retreat that they shouldn’t avoid discussing abortion or IVF while courting voters.

U.S. House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks as Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., (R) and House Majority Whip Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., listen during remarks regarding Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer’s, D-N.Y., criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and his call for a new election in Israel at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.U.S. House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks as Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., (R) and House Majority Whip Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., listen during remarks regarding Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer’s, D-N.Y., criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and his call for a new election in Israel at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

GOP leaders say they know Ukraine aid is urgent

The House still has aid to Ukraine in their hands, after the Senate passed a $95 billion package last month that would send funding to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

That package hasn’t moved in the lower chamber, where Republican leaders have argued it doesn’t include crucial border security provisions. (House and Senate Republicans opposed an immigration package that was initially tied to the bill.)

Johnson told reporters Wednesday that the House won’t consider any Ukraine funding until the process of keeping the government open on a longer-term basis is over. The next deadline is March 22.

But “I understand the timetable and I understand the necessity of – the urgency of the funding,” Johnson said.

The speaker reportedly told senators at their annual retreat Wednesday that he’s committed to passing legislation to help Ukraine, but it likely won’t be the package they passed.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said he’s working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on an alternative deal that would provide loans to Ukraine rather than direct aid. (Much of the Ukraine aid included in the Senate package would actually go to U.S. defense contractors and the Defense Department.)

Still McCaul wouldn’t say whether Johnson had committed to putting a Ukraine aid bill up for a vote, explaining it was only “my belief that he will.”

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, discusses “Biden’s failed foreign policy” to members of the press as Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., (L) and Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., listen at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, discusses “Biden’s failed foreign policy” to members of the press as Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., (L) and Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., listen at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, discusses “Biden’s failed foreign policy” to members of the press as Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., (L) and Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., listen at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The economy will be in the crosshairs this fall

Republicans are also hoping to hammer Biden’s handling of the economy this election season, highlighting the runaway inflation Americans have faced in the last few years.

“I can’t think of an area in President Biden’s agenda that has quite frankly done more harm or created more pain for working families and our fellow Americans than his economic agenda,” Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, chair of the House Budget Committee, said at a news conference on Thursday.

While consumer prices have been on the rise, the White House has touted other strong economic numbers, noting that inflation has declined, wages have gone up and job growth has continued to improve in recent months.

Regardless, Arrington argued Biden “showed us his priorities. We’ve showed the American people ours and I think this is a tale of two different worldviews and two different paths to American prosperity.”

U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, speaks on “Battling Bidenomics” to members of the press as Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., listens at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, speaks on “Battling Bidenomics” to members of the press as Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., listens at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, speaks on “Battling Bidenomics” to members of the press as Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., listens at the Greenbrier Hotel on March 14, 2024 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Takeaways from GOP huddle: Republicans address abortion fight, economy



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