House Republicans gather today in Baltimore to plot the path forward for their hard-fought new majority under the inevitable shadow of the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., which essentially put the GOP agenda on hold this week.
But Members insist they don’t plan to forestall their agenda for long and see no reason to alter their strategy for implementing it, even if they get a later start than they hoped.
“Clearly our colleagues and those that have fallen will continue to be in our thoughts and obviously in our prayers,” said Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), whose staff organized the three-day retreat that begins today. “But the business of the people will go forward.”
The Republican retreat, which is sponsored by the Congressional Institute, will be chock full of GOP heavy hitters, many of whom are stars of the conservative right. Conservative commentator Dennis Prager will keynote today’s dinner, while columnist George Will be Friday’s dinner keynote. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who engineered the 1994 Republican revolution, and former Sen. Phil Gramm (Texas) will speak to Members at a Friday breakfast.
Also Friday, conservative economists Larry Kudlow and Arthur Laffer, the economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan for whom the “Laffer curve” is named, will lead a session on creating jobs and growing the economy.
And GOP Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Rick Perry of Texas will brief Republican lawmakers on innovative policies that they are pursuing in the states.
“The agenda’s very full,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said, “so there’s no time to sightsee or anything like that.”
Upton said he would lead a breakout session Friday on energy with Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), as well as a Saturday session on health care with Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).
On Saturday, former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt will lead a health care discussion before Members break to return to their districts for the rest of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
Republican leaders are expected to hold a vote next week on a health care repeal bill. The vote was originally scheduled for this week, but it was postponed out of respect to the victims of the Arizona attack.
The upcoming repeal vote is expected to be an early test of whether the tone of debate in the House will be different post-shooting. But Republicans so far have given no indication that they plan to temper their opposition to the law, which National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions described Wednesday as a “huge job-killer.”
The Texas lawmaker said the events taking place in the House this week to reflect on the shooting and its aftermath represented a “thoughtful, important healing exercise” but that Republicans are prepared to get back to business next week.
“Next week will be next week,” Sessions said. “Our retreat was planned, it was scheduled. ... We will come back ready to thoughtfully address not only health care but moving forward an agenda that was well sold on the trail.”
Even Democrats are acknowledging the House must get back to its business.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said that “after this week” it would be appropriate for the House to return to work.
But security will still be on people’s minds.
Rep. John Kline, chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, said the retreat will also address the increased security concerns.
“We’re all affected by this and keenly aware of it. It will be a subject discussed at the retreat,” the Minnesota Republican said. “There will be briefings, as I understand, available for spouses and so forth.”
But Kline added, “We have the business that was already scheduled to do at the retreat.”
“We’ve got 87 new Members; we’ve got discussions with them, planning and strategy,” he said. “All of that stuff will go on at the retreat. I’m very confident that it will. This will just be an addition and probably, particularly the security briefings, an important addition.”
Rep. Bill Shuster said that while the shootings likely would be an informal topic of discussion, the closed-door policy sessions would be largely unaffected. The Pennsylvania Republican said he agreed with Speaker John Boehner’s assessment that it was important to try to disagree without being disagreeable.
“It’s not going to change our agenda,” Shuster said. “But yeah, I think it can change the approach. ... We can be passionate and debate, but we don’t have to be nasty and say things that may lower the level of discourse in this country.”
Still, Shuster stressed, “It doesn’t change the mandate.”
“We have to go forward with the message we heard from the American people, and I believe we heard it loud and clear,” he said.
Anna Palmer and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.