Kevin McCarthy’s GOP Checklist Includes Energy, Border, Investigations

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Seeking House majority and speaker’s gavel, Republican leader crafts formal agenda to unite lawmakers

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The California Republican said he would need to move quickly once he takes the gavel to advance the agenda before internal divisions emerge. “It’s Republican nature that they want to take down their leaders, it’s just what they do,” he said in an interview at the conference. In taking the majority, he said, “You have a mission and a goal you’re laying out to the American public.”

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The developing plan has been dubbed “Commitment to America,” echoing former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” ​​pitch to voters in 1994 when the GOP won the House majority. Mr. Gingrich spoke to members Wednesday night.

The party’s unity behind Mr. McCarthy’s comes after a period of turmoil—following an election in which the GOP lost the White House, but House Republicans sharply cut into Democrats’ majority. As minority leader, Mr. McCarthy had to manage a series of controversies involving far-right members including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.), push Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) out of leadership and tamp down contretemps over the bipartisan infrastructure plan.

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At the conference, Republicans cheered a parody music video of the 1966 hit single “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” in which Rep. Andrew Clyde (R., Ga.) sang: “In the nick of time a leader arose, it was Kevin McCarthy that the conference chose.”

Without providing specifics, Mr. McCarthy said Republicans will put forward proposals by this fall designed to combat inflation, boost US energy production and secure the southern border. Mr. McCarthy is also working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a course to help teach members to better understand artificial technology and cybersecurity and their implications for policy.

“If we’re able to win on that kind of agenda, then we’ve got a clear direction and a mandate to go do those things, and then building that coalition is a lot more straightforward,” said Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., NY) the chair of the GOP conference, said Mr. McCarthy’s goal is to “fix big problems.”

At one event this week, Mrs. Greene, a staunch ally of Mr. Trump, said she felt much of the agenda was about winning over battleground voters, rather than energizing the party’s base. She highlighted concerns over transgender athletes competing in women’s sports and a shortage of workers in small businesses as issues that conservatives care about, according to a person in the room. A spokeswoman for Mrs. Greene didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment

While a GOP majority’s prospects for making new law are slim, as President Biden can veto legislation he opposes, the party also plans a series of investigations sought by GOP voters. These probes are expected to focus on such subjects as the power of large technology companies and the origins of the Covid-19 virus as well as Mr. Biden’s son and his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci.

“The base cares about base demands, ‘what are you going to do about Hunter Biden, what are you going to do about Dr. Fauci?’ They expect our committee to provide that and we will,” said James Comer (R., Ky.), the top Republican on the Oversight panel. He called such probes “red meat” for GOP voters, while adding he hoped other investigations would have bipartisan backing.

House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) currently hold a narrow majority but face headwinds in the midterms. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 46% of voters said they would back a Republican candidate for Congress if the election were today, compared with 41% who favored a Democrat.

“Kevin McCarthy is measuring the drapes because power is the only thing about,” said Chris Taylor he cares for House Democrats’ campaign arm.

Mr. McCarthy has tried for speaker before. In 2015, when then-Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) abruptly left Congress under pressure from the Freedom Caucus. Mr. McCarthy was the odds-on favorite to succeed him but stumbled when he suggested in a TV interview that a House investigation into the Benghazi, Libya, attack was done for political purposes.

Since then, Mr. McCarthy’s amiable manner and powerful fundraising have won over lawmakers. He is on track to hit $100 million in fundraising so far for the 2022 election cycle by the end of March, according to an aide, money he can use to boost Republican candidates. He often talks with former President Donald Trump, who remains a force in GOP politics.

Republicans need to win a net five seats to win the House majority, but Mr. McCarthy will need more than a slender majority to deter small blocs of lawmakers from holding up legislation. Former House Speakers Boehner and Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) were sometimes tied in knots by the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, while Mrs. Pelosi at times has also struggled to pass legislation with her paper-thin majority.

To win the speakership, the candidate needs the majority of all House members present and voting. The vote gives candidates’ intraparty detractors outsize power, especially if the party has a narrow majority, since all members of the other party will oppose them. Other positions, such as minority leader or majority whip, are simply a majority of the party’s lawmakers.

After a tenure marred with spats with conservatives and Mr. Trump, Mr. Ryan retired at the end of 2018. Democrats took back the House and Mr. McCarthy ran to be the minority leader. He faced a challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus. Mr. McCarthy won but recognized he needed to bring Mr. Jordan into the fold. He made Mr. Jordan the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee and has elevated him to several leadership positions since.

“Kevin has done, I just think, so much of a better job of communicating and reaching out to all elements of the conference compared to the previous two leaders,” said Mr. Jordan.

Representatives for Mr. Boehner and Mr. Ryan didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Write to Eliza Collins at [email protected] and Natalie Andrews at [email protected]


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