October 28

By Kaia Hubbard

When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled his party’s “Commitment to America” platform last month, rolling out its midterm pitch to voters, he surmised that Democrats “have no plan to fix all the problems they created” – citing inflation, crime and immigration, among other issues.

“Who has a plan to change that course?” McCarthy said. “We do.”

The plan was largely absent of specific policy, leaning heavily on critiques of the nation’s current state under President Joe Biden and Democratic control of both chambers of Congress. But in the weeks since, as the midterms have drawn nearer and Republicans’ edge has appeared to sharpen, bits and pieces of a legislative agenda under a GOP House majority have begun to surface.

Less than two weeks ahead of the midterms, Democrats are playing defense as Republicans have appeared to strengthen their narrow lead in polls, especially in the House, as several surveys in recent days have pointed to the gains. Even in places where Democrats have enjoyed consistent support, Republicans are making inroads.

The picture may have been expected just months ago, with low presidential approval, record inflation and typical midterm outcomes suggesting a painless path to victory for Republicans in November. But Democrats were granted a counter to Republican narratives this summer when the Supreme Court rolled back abortion rights, seeming to propel a surge of women and young people to register to vote. Even so, as the final stretch before the midterms approaches, fears have begun to creep in among Democratic circles that their fortunes peaked early.

Accordingly, a Republican takeover of the House appears probable. So what do political observers think Americans will see emerging from a GOP-led House?

“A lot of messaging – not a lot of actual lawmaking,” John Pitney Jr., a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, says.

With a House majority is a likely House speaker in McCarthy. And promises from lawmakers about how a GOP majority in the House might play out are already shaking up Washington.

Among the first policy differences, the California lawmaker notably signaled last week that the steady stream of U.S. financial assistance to Ukraine could come to an end if the GOP retakes the House in fall midterms next month, as divisions have begun to emerge even among Democrats about U.S. assistance to Ukrainian forces holding off vastly better armed invading Russian troops for eight months.

“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News, “They just won’t do it.”

The move would be a controversial one, ushering in an isolated foreign policy that former Vice President Mike Pence suggested would make Republicans “apologists” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. But despite support from high-profile Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the number of lawmakers who align with Trump’s “America First” ideology is expected to grow in the upcoming Congress.

McCarthy pointed to domestic issues – like border security – as being of higher concern to Americans, arguing that Biden’s policies have “destroyed the border so badly.”

Republican lawmakers would almost certainly eye an investigation – and possible impeachment – of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Securing the southern border has long been at the top of Republicans’ priority list – at least as a talking point or criticism of a Democratic administration. Lately, it’s been a sticking point, with House Republicans most recently rejecting a procedural move to fund the government because the legislation did not address illegal immigration.

But perhaps of even greater importance to House Republicans is the economy and slashing government spending. They’re expected to use a deadline to raise the federal debt limit as an opportunity to accomplish a number of economic goals.

“The debt limit is clearly one of those tools that Republicans – that a Republican-controlled Congress – will use to make sure that we do everything we can to make this economy strong,” Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, a member of the House Budget Committee vying for the top GOP spot on the Ways and Means Committee told Bloomberg earlier this month.

Some have raised alarm that a GOP majority would “hold the debt limit hostage” as they try to reform Social Security and Medicare programs – a maneuver Pitney describes as “juggling with dynamite.”

McCarthy attempted to quell that hubbub last week, saying on CNBC that he understands that “the debt ceiling needs to be raised.” But he added that he’s going to “strengthen” Social Security and Medicare, pointing to the pledge to do so in the GOP’s Commitment to America.

Indeed, a single line of the pledge says Republicans would “save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.” But what that may look like remains to be seen.

The platform is a broad four-pronged pitch to voters, hinging on promises to create an “economy that’s strong,” “a nation that’s safe,” “a future that’s built on freedom” and “a government that’s accountable.” It evokes the 1994 “Contract with America,” a pitch released weeks ahead of midterm elections that flipped a Democratic-controlled House and Senate to Republicans under former President Bill Clinton. But the two are by no means identical.

“Whereas the Contract with America was pretty specific about the legislation they wanted to pass, the commitment is more vague,” Pitney says. “Fight inflation and lower the cost of living – OK – that’s a laudable goal. But how exactly do you do it?”

Pitney points to some specifics within the agenda, including increasing production of American energy, which he says he would expect means Republicans would likely try to roll back environmental regulations on the fossil fuel industry. They may also try to pass immigration legislation including increasing border patrol funding, or similarly supporting the hiring of more police officers, both of which he says may find common ground with the Biden administration.

But ultimately, Pitney says, very little will become law, since Republicans are unlikely to gain enough seats in the Senate for a filibuster-proof majority, causing legislation to die in the upper chamber – as it often has the last two years while Democrats held an ultra-thin majority in the Senate – or be vetoed by Biden.

“Bottom line: There’s going to be a lot of messaging legislation, but very little of it is actually going to become law,” Pitney says. “So they will pass lots of things in the House and they’ll either die in the Senate or in rare cases be vetoed by Biden.”

Even so, Republicans have touted their legislative plans for the upcoming Congress. And perhaps even moreso they’ve enthusiastically shared the onslaught of investigations they have pledged to undertake. But unlike legislation in a narrow majority or split Congress, their investigations can go on without support from across the aisle.

Atop the list appears to be a probe into Hunter Biden’s business dealings, which have long been a topic floated as political fodder in GOP circles and a focus of Trump in his 2020 bid for re-election. With a Republican majority in the House, multiple lawmakers have cited investigating Biden’s son’s business dealings related to Ukraine and China as high on their list of priorities, citing what they characterize as ethical conflicts with his conduct while his father served as vice president.

Republican lawmakers have also pledged to investigate the origins of COVID-19, with a focus on the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

“Dr. Fauci lost the trust of the American people when his guidance unnecessarily kept schools closed and businesses shut while obscuring questions about his knowledge on the origins of COVID,” McCarthy said in a tweet when Fauci announced he will step down from his position at year’s end. “He owes the American people answers.”

House Republicans are also eyeing an investigation into the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Earlier this month, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top GOP member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that released a report in August about the withdrawal, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting that his department preserve all related documents that may be “responsive to a future Congressional inquiry, request, investigation, or subpoena.”

Another possible target of impeachment is Attorney General Merrick Garland, while Republicans also have their sights set on an investigation into the Justice Department and the FBI, including its search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. GOP lawmakers have already touted progress on a probe related to the FBI’s focus on “domestic violent extremism” even ahead of regaining a majority.

Finally, a GOP-controlled House may seek to impeach Biden himself. But McCarthy has tamped down calls in recent weeks from Trump loyalists to impeach the president.

“I think the country doesn’t like impeachment used for political purposes at all,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News. “If anyone ever rises to that occasion, you have to. But I think the country wants to heal and … start to see the system that actually works.”

Likely at the helm of the numerous investigations and possible impeachments Republicans are looking to undertake come January will be Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Trump’s leading defenders during his impeachment trials, as the top GOP member of the Judiciary Committee. Jordan explained at CPAC this summer that the various investigations would help “frame up the 2024 race” when Republicans must “make sure” that Trump wins.

Not all Republican lawmakers are in that camp. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican who is not running for reelection this year, warned in an interview with CNN’s “The Axe Files” last month that a GOP-controlled House is going to “demand an impeachment vote on President Biden every week.”

He compared the present moment to his earlier years in the chamber, “back before we had all the crazies here,” saying that every vote at the time “had to somehow defund Obamacare.”

“That’s going to look like child’s play in terms of what Marjorie Taylor Greene is going to demand of Kevin McCarthy,” he said, referring to the Trump-aligned member of Congress from Georgia and the more moderate minority leader. “I think it will be a very difficult majority for him to govern, unless he just chooses to go absolutely crazy with them.”

Greene is among the voices looking to be elevated to leadership positions with a GOP majority. She told The New York Times Magazine that McCarthy will give her “a lot of power and a lot of leeway” in order to “be the best speaker of the House and to please the base.”

Even if they aren’t taking up leadership positions, the House will likely look more like Greene next year, as an analysis by The Washington Post found that 55% of nominees for the House are election deniers, who believe Trump’s claims that he actually won the 2020 election in which he was defeated, with the vast majority of those running in safely Republican districts.

According to Pitney, a lot of a Republican-controlled House’s legislative agenda will be determined by the size of its majority.

“If it’s a majority in the low single digits, that gives a great deal of leverage to people like Marjorie Taylor Greene – and the crazy quotient will increase dramatically,” Pitney says. “If they have a more comfortable majority – 15, 20, 30 seats – then McCarthy will have a little more flexibility and he won’t have to bow to the crazy caucus quite as much.”

McCarthy said last week on CNBC that he’s feeling “very good” about where the election stands with just weeks to go, pointing to “what the Democrats have done for the last two years” and the GOP’s mission to “clean up the mess that they created.”

“That really stands with the Commitment to America,” he said, displaying an index card appearing to show the agenda’s bulleted list of priorities.

“Long on slogans and short on details,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said of the Republican platform while he delivered a dueling speech on the day it was announced last month. “That’s because the true details of the Republicans’ agenda are too frightening for most American voters.”