HERSHEY, Pa. — In their first joint public appearance since Mitch McConnell became Senate majority leader, Speaker John A. Boehner and the Senate's top Republican came before a Washington press corps — assembled at Lebbie Lebkicher's Restaurant in the Hershey Lodge Hotel — and described the new relationship between the House and Senate: separate, but together.
Boehner and McConnell were asked how the two chambers would work out the differences on a Department of Homeland Security funding bill , which is the first big test facing Congress. "The House is going to work its will," Boehner said. "The Senate is going to work its will. And then we'll either get in conference or go find some way to resolve the differences. That's what we call regular order. That's the legislative process."
McConnell shrugged his shoulders in agreement. He had nothing to add.
The retreat in Hershey was intended to foster party communication and unity , but whatever goodwill is generated in the chocolate capital will be tested when the lawmakers return to Washington to take up the DHS funding debate again.
Conservatives, determined not to cave in on calls for a "clean" funding measure, are insisting on a bill like the one the House passed Wednesday — complete with riders that block or defund President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration .
But Senate leadership is already indicating how difficult it will be to advance the House bill as written. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, in a separate event with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said Senate Republicans have no intention of shutting down the Department of Homeland Security. "That's off the table," Cornyn said.
House conservatives might not be so excited about giving up such a bargaining chip, but some do feel it's important that Republicans be realistic about what they can accomplish.
"It's a reality," Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., told CQ Roll Call Thursday. Look: This is not my first rodeo," Salmon said, noting he was a member in the 1990s, when Bob Dole was Senate majority leader. (Salmon left Congress in 2001 and came back in 2012.)
Salmon said it was frustrating the Senate couldn't take up certain aspects of the Contract With America. "But in spite of that, in spite of that, we figured out more than one way to skin a cat, and we found those issues of commonality."
One of those issues was a welfare overhaul, which Republicans have talked about quite a bit during this 2015 GOP retreat, which has been a "Hot Tub Time Machine" for Republicans , according to Salmon.
But other than a blast from the past, the retreat has been about managing expectations for House Republicans. When Boehner was asked to name something good that had come out of the joint retreat, he said the "most positive thing" was that House and Senate Republicans had an "opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better."
"We want House and Senate Republicans working together with our Democratic colleagues to advance good solutions," Boehner said. "And it's kind of hard to do that when you don't really have a really good feel for who these people are."
Once again, McConnell had nothing to add.
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