By Melanie Zanona, CNN
Updated: Thu, 22 Sep 2022 20:22:18 GMT
House Republicans on Thursday rallied around a policy blueprint that will serve as their political mission statement this fall, after getting a sneak peek of the document on Thursday from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and hearing messaging advice from a former House speaker and former Donald Trump adviser.
McCarthy spent over a year collecting input from members and crafting a proposed legislative agenda, which he dubbed the "Commitment to America" and modeled after the GOP's infamous "Contract with America" that helped propel the party to power in 1994.
Now, with the election less than two months away and Republicans just five seats shy of a House majority, they're hoping to duplicate their success from decades ago by giving candidates a platform to run on, drawing a contrast with their Democratic opponents and providing leadership a plan for governing if they reclaim the majority.
And with an improved political environment for Democrats after Roe v. Wade was overturned, most Republicans have been eager to shift the conversation away from abortion and talk about other issues like the economy, crime and the border.
"Elections should be a real contrast," McCarthy said in an interview. "The country is hungry for people to sit up and say, 'This is what I'll do. Tell us what you're for.'"
McCarthy and his top lieutenants will formally roll out the agenda Friday at a metal sheet working plant outside Pittsburgh -- a location purposely selected outside of DC. But on Thursday, House Republicans were given a preview of the messaging document in the Capitol.
The blueprint, which is being unveiled in both English and Spanish, is broken out into four main sections, though they read more like policy goals than specific legislative prescriptions. One section is focused on the economy and fighting inflation by reducing government spending and making America energy independent; the second is focused on making the nation safer by securing the border and hiring more police officers to fight crime; the third is centered on empowering parents and taking on Big Tech; and the fourth is focused on holding the government accountable and protecting constitutional freedoms.
The agenda -- as well as McCarthy's inclusive, member-driven approach toward assembling it -- earned wide praise from across the conference on Thursday, with some lawmakers saying this will boost McCarthy in his quest for the speaker's gavel.
"I think it's good stuff," said Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the head of the House GOP campaign's arm. "You've got to be running for something, not just against it."
"I'm really enthusiastic," said Rep. David Schweikert, an Arizona Republican in a competitive race. "It's easy to understand, it's really positive, and it actually works."
"People feel good about it," said veteran Rep. Tom Cole, a member of GOP leadership. "It shows the Kevin McCarthy I know: extremely inclusive."
"I'm very excited," added Rep. Kat Cammack, a Florida Republican who is vying to lead the conservative Republican Study Committee next year. "This is a very thoughtful process. Every single member has had input. ... Trying to wrangle us all is definitely a triumph."
And during the closed-door meeting, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia -- a top Trump ally who has been critical of McCarthy in the past -- praised the document as "fantastic," according to sources in the room.
Greene was selected to join a group of House Republicans traveling to Pittsburgh for the rollout -- just the latest example of how McCarthy has worked to bring even his most hardline members into the fold in his quest for the majority and the speakership.
"It unites the conference," McCarthy said of his blueprint. "You know, you'll always find somebody (who dissents), but overall, you've got the spectrum. And that's not an easy thing to do ... Everybody has skin in the game when everybody's working on it."
Gingrich and Conway address GOP conference
Aside from getting briefed on the "Commitment to America," members on Thursday also heard from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the architect of the original "Contract with America," as well as Kellyanne Conway, a GOP pollster and former Trump adviser.
Conway told lawmakers in the room that she believes touting their policy platform on the campaign trail will be the difference of whether they pick up just a handful of seats or dozens of seats.
She also told Republicans that the most salient issues this fall will be security, affordability, fairness and education, and dismissed the "single digit issue advantage that Democrats have on January 6, or climate, or abortion, in some districts."
Conway encouraged GOP members to be specific when talking about the issues, and she advised Republicans, when asked about abortion, to turn the tables on Democrats and ask which restrictions they support.
"I encouraged them to finish their sentences, not just say border security, inflation, crime, economy, Putin and Biden," Conway told reporters after the meeting.
Gingrich -- who predicted Republicans will reclaim the majority by picking up anywhere from 15 to 70 seats -- praised the document as far more "complex" and "sophisticated" than the one he assembled in 1994.
Yet McCarthy's policy blueprint is light on specific proposals and more like policy wish list, which was largely by design: wading into the specific details can be much more difficult and divisive.
For example, on the topic of abortion, the agenda simply vows that Republicans will "protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers."
Rep. Scott Perry, the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called it a "good start" and said most of the conference was behind it, but acknowledged they'll need to "put a little more meat on the bones."
By contrast, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opted not to unveil a formal agenda, which could open Republicans up to attacks.
To wit, Democrats have already seized on the House GOP's policy plans, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office blasting out screenshots of the agenda that were accidently posted online on Wednesday and blasted it as an "extreme MAGA agenda."
McCarthy acknowledged the potential drawbacks to outlining their desired agenda ahead of the midterms, but said there's far more reward in offering up a platform to the public.
"There's always a risk, but you won't be successful," McCarthy said. "I think the country will reward someone that's willing to take the risk to say, 'These are our ideas, and this is what we'll do.'"