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What The GOP Agenda Might Look Like After Election Day


With all the talk of a blue wave for Democrats on Tuesday, many Republicans are still optimistic. House Republicans are preparing for their best-case scenario where they hold onto a narrow majority. And while President Trump is floating big plans to crack down on immigration with a Republican win, House GOP leaders have other plans.

NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell spoke with two House Republican leaders, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and his top deputy, Patrick McHenry. Hey, Kelsey.


CHANG: All right, we're heading into this really tight election. If Republicans in the House can hang onto their majority, what are the plans they have for governing?

SNELL: Well, the very first thing that Scalise mentioned when we were talking was the economy. He talked about how well the economy is doing and how he wants to expand on that, particularly with trade agreements. Here's what he had to say.

STEVE SCALISE: We're just starting to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. We need to get better trade deals with our friends around the world. I don't want tariffs. I want a free trade environment where we actually can not only have good relationships trade-wise with our friends but stand up to China.

SNELL: Did you hear that there? There's a lot of talk about developing new trade agreements...

CHANG: Yeah.

SNELL: ...And not tariffs, things that Trump just isn't talking about.

CHANG: Right.

SNELL: It's just a really...

CHANG: Kind of the exact opposite, actually.

SNELL: (Laughter) It's a really different approach. And, you know, we hear Trump talk a lot about immigration, but this focus on the economy kind of spans across Republican leadership.

CHANG: So even though Republicans controlled both chambers the past two years, they failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If they are able to retain majorities in both chambers again, do you think they're going to try to repeal the health care law?

SNELL: Now, I asked a lot of Republicans about this, and I asked both Scalise and McHenry. And health care is really not as prominent in their plans as it was back in 2016. Republicans feel pretty burned by the process when they've tried and failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in a really big chunk. And so they're moving away from big, sweeping plans to kind of smaller ideas. McHenry used a baseball metaphor. He said, no more home runs.

PATRICK MCHENRY: We learned a lot out of that health care debate.

SNELL: Like what?

MCHENRY: Singles and doubles and bipartisan results are the best way to achieve any lasting difference in health care.

SNELL: What he's talking about is returning a lot of power to the states. So they might focus on making small changes so that states have more control over, say, Medicare or Medicaid or decision-making about who receives benefits.

CHANG: Whichever party ends up controlling the House, Republicans still expect to lose some seats - right? - in any scenario. So how are they planning for that?

SNELL: Both McHenry and Scalise say they're looking to House Republicans to kind of give up the internal squabbles that we've seen for the past two years. Most House Republicans have never served in the minority. They've never even been in a tight majority. And so Scalise says there's going to be a learning curve.

SCALISE: When we have a 23-seat majority, it might seem like a lot. But there's probably about 35 people on any given vote that think, hey, I can just vote no and hope that the bill passes. You know, if you disagree with a bill philosophically and it breaks your principles, vote no. But if it's a bill that you think is important and a good bill but you're just concerned you might get a few phone calls if you vote no but hope that it passes, nobody has that luxury anymore.

SNELL: And McHenry says they're going to need to slow down and be more deliberate.

MCHENRY: When you have a narrow House, you have to build out consensus much earlier in the process. You have to have a more measured approach for what you're going to achieve. We were hyper-aggressive with the timeline on health care, and that timeline forced a lot of tough decisions. Because we're focused on going fast, it actually slowed things down.

SNELL: They're both essentially saying that conservative factions of the party need to end their strategy of rebelling and just get behind leadership when it comes to critical bills.

CHANG: OK, so if they take on a less aggressive, more deliberative approach, aside from what's on the table next year, I mean, how do House Republicans plan to deal with all the things they left unfinished before the election? They've got a government funding deadline coming up.

SNELL: Yeah, December 7. And, you know, that leaves them just a couple of weeks to figure out how to keep the government open. And while they did get a lot of big spending bills passed, they still need to do the Department of Homeland Security, which includes money for Trump's wall on the border. And that is shaping up to be a big fight.

CHANG: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thanks.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.