House Republicans Take Stock of 118th Congress So Far Headed into Annual Retreat

House Republicans head to their annual retreat next week to plan out the remainder of the first session of the 118th Congress.  They face plenty of challenges.  A slim majority, a looming fight over the debt ceiling, a focused political attack from President Biden over Social Security and Medicare, the beginnings of a divisive presidential primary and some deep-seated internal divisions over the future of the Republican party – to name just a few. 

But the annual retreat in Orlando, Florida is also an opportunity to take stock of the opening months of their new majority.  In many ways, it hasn’t gone as planned but better than expected.  Taking 15 ballots to elect a speaker was messy and certainly wasn’t planned.  But at least internally the Republican Members came out of the process with some unity and a better understanding of what their conference was all about.  They re-opened the Capitol complex and that has genuinely improved the mood on both sides of the aisle.  They ended proxy voting and virtual hearings – adding to the renewed sense of energy and vibrance on Capitol Hill. 

Speaker McCarthy created the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.  The select committee and its Chairman Mike Gallagher have won praise for the serious bipartisan tone it has taken in the opening months.  Whether it is a good thing, or a bad thing depends on one’s perspective, but House Republicans have demonstrated a remarkable degree of unity and focus on issues surrounding ESG.  A bill passed by the House overturning a Biden Administration rule on 401ks and ESG also passed the Democratic-controlled Senate.  A bill overturning the District of Columbia’s revised criminal code is going to be signed into law by President Biden.  An energy package is making its way through multiple committees. While much of that package will never become law, it has added momentum to the bipartisan push for permitting reform.

It gets tougher from here.  The fight over the debt ceiling is almost certain to be divisive and politically risky.  One side may win and the other loses in the voter’s mind.  And to be sure, the approval rating of Congress remains very low – in the 20% range.  But there is a sense among House Republicans that they are headed into the retreat in a better place than even they thought they would be after the 15th ballot for Speaker on January 5th.


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