Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is in Pennsylvania on Friday to confront President Joe Biden and the party in power and unveil a midterm election agenda of sweeping Trump-like promises.
McCarthy, who is poised to grab the speaker’s gavel if Republicans win control of the House this fall, hopes to repeat the strategy former Speaker Newt Gingrich used to rouse voters and sweep control of the House in a landslide in 1994.
The House GOP’s “Commitment to America” nods to that earlier era, but updates it for Trump with economic, border security and social policies to awaken the former president’s deep well of supporters in often-forgotten regions like this rusted landscape outside Pittsburgh.
“We have a plan for a new direction for America,” McCarthy told The Associated Press.
On Friday, the House Republican leader will stand with other lawmakers to roll out the GOP agenda and offer a portrait of party unity despite the uneasy coalition that makes up the House minority — and the Republican Party itself. The GOP has shifted from its focus on small government, low taxes and individual freedoms to a more populist, nationalist and sometimes far-right party, essentially still led by Donald Trump, who remains popular despite the deepening state and federal investigations into Hi m.
Buoyed by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” voters, Republicans need to pick up just a few seats to regain control of the narrowly divided House and replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Still, McCarthy’s ability to lead the House is far from guaranteed.
While Republicans and Trump passed tax cuts into law, the GOP’s last major campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, collapsed in failure. A host of Republican speakers, including Gingrich, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, have been forced from office or opted for early retirement, often marred by partisan infighting.
“House Republicans are really good at running people out of town,” said Matt Schlapp, president of the Conservative Political Action Coalition, or CPAC.
McCarthy, who was first elected to office in 2006, is among the remaining political survivors of those Republican struggles. A key architect of the Republican “tea party” takeover in 2010, the California Republican personally recruited the newcomers to Congress — many who had never served in public office and are long gone. He was an early Trump endorser and has remained close to the former president, relying on his high-profile endorsements to propel GOP candidates to Congress. He abandoned an earlier attempt to become a lecturer when support from his colleagues drifted.
“Commitment to America” reflects the strength of McCarthy’s abilities, but also his weaknesses. He spent more than a year bringing together the House GOP’s often warring factions — from the far-right MAGA to what’s left of the more centrist ranks — to produce a largely agreed-upon agenda.
But the one-page “commitment” preamble is terse, essentially a pocket map, although it is expected to be filled out with the kind of detail necessary to make laws.
“They’re talking about a lot of issues,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland. “They don’t have many solutions.”
Traveling to battleground Pennsylvania, a state where Mr. Biden has emotional ties from his early childhood, McCarthy intends to counter the president’s fiery Labor Day weekend speech, in which he warned of rising GOP extremism after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Capitol, with a more optimistic message. The event is billed as a conversation with the GOP leader and lawmakers.
Along with as many as five House seats Republicans believe they can pick up in Pennsylvania in November, the state has one of the most watched Senate races, between Democrat John Fetterman and Trump-backed Mehmet Oz, which will help decide control over Congress. At the top of the ticket is the seismic gubernatorial matchup between the GOP’s Doug Mastriano, seen outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, and Democrat Josh Shapiro.
“If you’re a hardliner, a populist, and you really want to be angry, Kevin is kind of frustrating because he’s not going to be angry enough for you,” Gingrich said. “If, on the other hand, you want to have your values implemented and adopted in legislation, he is a really good leader and organizer.”
Gingrich worked with McCarthy and his team to create the style and substance of the proposal. The former speaker, who has been asked for an interview by the Jan. 6 committee investigating the Capitol attack, was in Washington on Thursday, joining McCarthy as he revealed the plans privately to House Republicans, who have been mixed about the approach.
For the most part, the GOP pocketbook hits on the broad strokes — energy independence, security and an end to liberal social policies, especially in schooling.
Conservative Republicans privately complain that McCarthy is not leaning hard enough into their priorities as he tries to appeal to a wider range of voters and hold the party together.
Many are eager to launch investigations into the Biden administration and the president’s family, and some are calling for impeachment. Legislatively, some House Republicans want to fulfill the party’s commitment to ban abortion, supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill that would ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In a sign of the pressure ahead for McCarthy, dozens of House GOP lawmakers signed off on the plans by Trump-aligned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to prevent many gender reassignment procedures for minors, and celebrated the Georgian as brave for taking such a hardline approach.
She and others were invited to attend Friday’s event as McCarthy seeks their support.
Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, has advocated withholding federal funds as leverage for policy priorities, the tactic that created previous government shutdowns.
“Issuing like, you know, principles of, ‘Well, we’re going to secure the border.’ I mean, okay, but what are we going to do about it?” Roy said. “At the end of the day, I want specific actions that will show that we will fight for the American people.”
McCarthy alone has proposed a plan if Republicans win control of the House chamber. In the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell has refused to present an agenda, preferring simply to run against Biden and the Democrats in the midterm elections.
“Kevin has done a very good job of being able to become the speaker. And then the question is, what do you do with that? Schlapp said. “This helps as a road map.”