At Retreat, House Republicans Hope to 'Turn Things Around'

Billy House
January 16, 2013

Will motivational speeches from the CEO of Dominos Pizza and the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest help House Republicans in an effort to use adversity to their advantage and turn things around in Washington?

Perhaps. At least they are part of the agenda as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and rank-and-file Republicans gather Wednesday for the start of their three-day 2013 political and policy conference in Williamsburg, Va.

The private conference--coming off the fiscal-cliff showdown and an embarrassing-even-if-unsuccessful coup attempt on the speaker--will dwell partly on healing internal divisions. But Republicans will also seek to emerge with more unified strategies and a public messaging campaign in the upcoming debt-ceiling, tax, and spending battles.  And they will do so as some polls show the public holds them in low esteem, and even Republican pollsters say the party has an image problem.

For instance, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday shows that 67 percent of Americans say that Republicans in Congress are doing “too little” to cooperate with President Obama, while only 27 percent say the GOP is doing the right amount or too much. The same poll found Democrats in Congress get a 37 percent approval rating; the Republicans a 24 percent rating.

Republicans left for Williamsburg on Wednesday morning, many of them by train for the event financed in part by the nonprofit Congressional Institute.

And, according to an agenda for the event obtained by National Journal, there will be a lot of focus on how to flip the script, or at least the party’s image, in the coming months in Washington--with help from motivational speakers, pollsters, and conservative journalists.

For instance, by Wednesday afternoon, the House Republicans are scheduled to hear an address from Dominos CEO Patrick Doyle on the topic of “Turning Things Around.” And the keynote speaker for their Wednesday night “Dinner With Congressional Institute Guests” is Erik Weihenmayer, an athlete perhaps best known for being the first blind person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. The topic of his address is, “Using Adversity to Our Advantage by Working Together.”

Wednesday’s events also will include a polling session on the topic, “What Happened and Where Are We Now.” Pollsters involved in that presentation are scheduled to be David Winston of the Winston Group, Kellyanne Conway, and David Sackett of The Tarrance Group.

In addition, William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Kim Strassel, a columnist with The Wall Street Journal, will discuss, “What Is the Role of the Republican Majority in the 113th Congress?”

The first day’s events begin with opening remarks by Mark Strand, president of the Congressional Institute, and a preview of the retreat by House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state.

Thursday is scheduled to be full of seminars and workshops--and House Republican aides say that the first part of the day will focus on legislative strategies for the next 90 days, including the upcoming battles over the debt ceiling, the so-called sequester, gun-control issues, and passing another stop-gap bill to keep government funded through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30). The remainder of the day will feature seminars on longer-term strategies for the rest of the two-year session.

Friday will begin with a breakfast address by Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Afterward, a discussion will take place on “How to Communicate Principles in Today’s Media Environment.” The moderator is Brett O’Donnell of O’Donnell and Associates, and others participating will be former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and pollster Frank Luntz.

Later in the morning, CNN Commentator Ana Navarro will lead a discussion on the topic of “Successful Communication With Minority and Women,” joined by Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois., Scott Rigell of Virginia, and Frank Wolf of Virginia.

The event closes Friday before noon with what could be the best discussion--an open microphone session with House Republican leaders.