McCarthy unveils House GOP’s midterm agenda in Pennsylvania

  • House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks at DMI Companies in Monongahela, Pa., Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. McCarthy joined with other House Republicans to unveil their "Commitment to America" agenda. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

MONONGAHELA, Pa. — House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday confronted President Joe Biden and the Democratic majority in Congress with a conservative midterm election agenda filled with Trump-like promises, working not only to win over voters but to hold together the uneasy coalition of his own party that has struggled to govern.

McCarthy, who is poised to seize the speaker’s gavel if Republicans take control of the House in the fall, never once mentioned the former president. Instead, the GOP leader traveled to battleground Pennsylvania hoping to replicate the strategy that former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia used to spark voter enthusiasm and gain a majority in 1994.

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“What the ‘Commitment’ is, it’s a plan for a new direction,” McCarthy said at a manufacturing facility in a historic building along the Monongahela River.

The House GOP’s “Commitment to America” gives a nod to the earlier era but updates it in the age of Donald Trump, with economic, border security and social policies to rouse the former president’s deep well of supporters in sometimes-overlooked regions like this rusty landscape and rolling farmland outside Pittsburgh.

Slim enough to fit on a “pocket card,” which McCarthy pulled from his suitcoat, the agenda uses broad strokes — “A Future That’s Built on Freedom” — supplemented by more detailed proposals on energy, security and an end to liberal social policies, particularly in schooling.

President Joe Biden hit back quickly in a speech to the National Education Association.

He dismissed McCarthy’s agenda as “a thin series of policy goals with little or no detail.” But he provided his own details in urging support for Democrats in the midterm elections.

“If Republicans win control of the Congress abortion will be banned,” Biden said. He also criticized other GOP lawmakers for proposals to require reauthorization votes for Social Security and Medicare and opposition to gun control laws and efforts to lower prescription drug costs.

“In 46 days, Americans are going to face a choice,” he said. “We have a real alternative here.”

In Pennsylvania, McCarthy said that if Republicans win the House, the first bill next year will be to repeal funding approved by Democrats to bolster the Internal Revenue Service with more employees.

On Friday, he stood with a wide cross-section of lawmakers — from far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to less extreme GOP members of Congress — offering a portrait of unity despite the wide range of views that make up the House minority — and the Republican Party nationally.

The GOP in the Trump-era has shifted from its focus on small government, low taxes and individual freedoms to a more populist, nationalist and, at times, far-right party, essentially still led by the former president, who remains popular despite the deepening state and federal investigations against him.

Propelled by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” voters, the Republicans need to pick up just a few seats to win back control of the narrowly split House and replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But even so, McCarthy’s ability to lead the House is far from guaranteed.

While Republicans and Trump did pass tax cuts into law, the GOP’s last big campaign promise, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” collapsed in failure. Republican speakers, including Gingrich, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, have been forced from office or have chosen early retirement, often ground down by party infighting.

“House Republicans are really good at running people out of town,” said Matt Schlapp, chair of the Conservative Political Action Coalition.

McCarthy, first elected to office in 2006, is among the remaining survivors of those House Republican battles, a leader who, somewhat like, Trump has shown more ability to communicate than to legislate.

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 now long gone. McCarthy was an early Trump endorser and has remained close to the former president, relying on Trump’s high-profile endorsements to propel GOP candidates for Congress. He abandoned an earlier bid to become speaker when support from House colleagues drifted.

He spent more than a year pulling 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 mostly agreed-upon agenda.

In traveling to swing state Pennsylvania, where Biden holds emotional ties from his early childhood, McCarthy sought to counter the Democratic president’s fiery Labor Day weekend speech, in which he warned of rising GOP extremism after the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Conservative Republicans complain privately that McCarthy isn’t leaning hard enough into their priorities, as he tries to appeal to a broader swath of voters and hold the party together. Many are eager to launch investigations into the Biden administration and the president’s family, with some calling for impeachment.

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