GOP eyes ambitious agenda if House flips

Republicans are eyeing an ambitious legislative agenda if they flip the House in November’s elections, setting the stage for countless clashes with President Biden on a host of thorny issues, from COVID-19 protocols and Big Tech to border security and the national debt.

The midterm cycle is historically brutal for the party of first-term presidents, and that track record — combined with Biden’s approval rating, which is underwater, and consumer inflation, which is soaring — has created a golden opportunity for Republicans to win back the lower chamber after just four years in the minority wilderness.

With that in mind, GOP leaders are already turning their gaze beyond the elections to discuss how they’d wield their power, presuming they seize it.

Their strategy features a series of lawmaker “task forces” charged with itemizing the party’s top-tier reform ideas across a spectrum of hot-button issues — a wish list designed to serve as both a messaging tool on the campaign trail this year and a legislative guide in 2023 if they do gain the majority.

Providing counsel through the process have been a host of prominent Republicans, including former Trump administration officials; conservative power players, like Club for Growth President David McIntosh, who spoke to the Republican Study Committee last week; and former congressional leaders, like onetime Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who’s acting as a kind of informal adviser.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), the vice chair of the House GOP conference, said the process is now in its “final stages,” with much of the task force work expected to be presented at the Republicans’ annual issues conference, which is scheduled for next month in Florida.

“I assume it will be rolled out, probably by early summer, in time for members to go home and talk about it in town halls and run on it,” Johnson said. “It’s all coming together.”

The strategy marks an extension of the Republicans’ “Commitment to America” campaign of 2020, which featured broad promises to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, fight domestic crime, bolster the nation’s infrastructure and empower parents when it comes to their children’s education.

With Biden in the White House, this year’s effort is much broader. The seven task forces are charged with crafting legislation designed to boost jobs, streamline health care, rein in the big tech companies, strengthen national security, counter Chinese influence, promote energy independence and secure individual freedoms such as gun rights.

The policy focus is both practical and political. It marks an effort to distinguish the Republicans’ legislative plans from those of Biden and the Democrats, but also reflects the enduring desire of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other GOP leaders to shift the campaign debate away from former President Trump, his false claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 election and the deadly attack on the Capitol that followed.

The House GOP strategy marks a sharp departure from that being adopted across the Capitol by Senate Republicans. Although GOP leaders in the upper chamber are also bullish about their chances of picking up seats and seizing control, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he’ll keep his legislative plans under wraps until after the elections.

Though the midterms remain more than eight months away, the prospect of Republicans taking control of the House has already sparked an outpouring of opinions from rank-and-file lawmakers about where GOP leaders should launch their legislative agenda next year if they hold power.

Many are advocating for a focus on the southern border with Mexico, where a surge in migration has led to record detentions — and a humanitarian crisis — in the first year of the Biden administration. Republicans are framing it as a national security threat.

“Border security would be right at the top,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.). “We need to finish the fence. We need to have all the protocols all along the border, in order to control our border.”

Other Republicans argued that the emphasis should be on scaling back the public health protocols put in place by the Biden administration in the name of combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservatives have bashed those policies — particularly mask and vaccine mandates — as an unconstitutional encroachment on individual freedoms, vowing to outlaw any similar effort under their watch.

“I would like to think that the Democrats, in the majority, and this administration would let go of the unconstitutional, unlawful, unjustified, unscientific mandates relative to the China virus, and stop with the masks and vaccines on everybody long before a year from now,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus.

“However, they are clearly ‘COVID forever,’ and it seems as if they want to continue it — certainly the administration does,” he continued. “So that is the No. 1 most important issue, is the trampling on people’s freedoms.”

Echoing other fiscal hawks, Good is also hoping GOP leaders move quickly to rein in government spending by adopting a balanced budget amendment. “We’re heading for a fiscal crisis if we don’t get a grip on spending,” he said.

Still others are eager to launch a slew of investigations into the administration, to include its management of the coronavirus crisis, Biden’s handling of the deadly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the federal government’s interactions with local school boards.

To that list of investigative priorities, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has added another: She wants Republicans to rush an investigation into the U.S. Capitol Police following accusations from Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) that officers had entered his office and spied on him.

“We need to launch some serious investigations into the way the Capitol has been run,” she said. “Things are just completely out of hand.”

In Gingrich, the Republicans have an experienced guide. In 1994, the former Georgia lawmaker led Republicans into the majority with his “Contract for America,” ending decades of Democratic rule in the House and empowering the GOP to take on then-President Clinton.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Gingrich will prove a valuable resource since parts of the “contract” remain unrealized. The effort to reform the welfare system, for instance, has been “completely reversed,” he said.

“Today we actually provide more money to people for not working than we did before welfare reform, we just do it in other forms,” Issa said. “We’ve essentially re-resurrected the welfare system that paid people not to work.”

Whatever final product emerges from the lengthy discussions, some Republicans are urging that it happen quickly.

“Once it’s written, the agenda must be packaged, tested in polling to find the best arguments for it, and disseminated to candidates,” Karl Rove wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. “It can be done piecemeal — one task force’s recommendations at a time — but it should start soon.”

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