GOP Plots Next 200 Days at Retreat but Trump Has His Own Ideas

The 200-day agenda is ambitious.

ByABC News
January 26, 2017, 7:32 PM

Philadelphia -- The congressional Republican retreat began as many events organized by House Speaker Paul Ryan do: with a detailed chart.

The ambitious 200-day agenda that the Wisconsin Republican and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presented included goals related to an Affordable Care Act replacement, tax code reform, Obama-era regulatory rollback and, at the request of President Donald Trump, an infrastructure package.

But if Ryan and McConnell brought a blueprint to their annual retreat, President Donald Trump’s tweets and proclamations leading up to his speech here, on issues like voter fraud and big-city violence, appeared akin to taking a giant red Sharpie and scribbling all over it.

While Congress seems determined to pursue its own agenda with, or perhaps despite, the president, some lawmakers told ABC News that they were concerned that Trump’s priorities might throw them off course policy-wise and politically.

“It derails the message,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said. “Any time you get away from our message, which is jobs, manufacturing, economy, defense, rebuilding the military, I think you derail the message.”

"Those distractions aren’t helpful, obviously," Rep. Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania moderate, added.

As lawmakers arrived in buses Wednesday, the president was tweeting about shootings in Chicago, his plans to investigate unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and his insistence that Mexico will pay for the border wall that he plans to build.

He mused, in his first interview as president with ABC News' David Muir that night, that he would consider reinstating the practice of waterboarding, saying he believes the enhanced interrogation method, which Congress banned in 2015, “absolutely” works.

And in his speech Thursday, he veered between shared priorities like Obamacare and tax reform, and topics like turnout at a pro-life march Friday and “what the hell is going on” in Chicago (to which one lawmaker in the crowd replied, “Democrats!”)

Congressional leadership, seemingly eager to emerge from their closed-press sessions to talk about the progress they were making, found themselves having to respond to those comments along with questions about health care and taxes.

“We have to focus on the things that unite us,” Sen. John Thune, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said after fielding questions about alleged widespread voter fraud (he said he hasn’t seen evidence of it) and enhanced interrogation methods (he insisted Congress is not reopening that debate).

In fact, one of the headlines from the conference wasn’t about the big GOP priorities at all, but rather about the border wall for which Trump is determined to make Mexico pay.

As they wait for Trump to announce how he’s going to force Mexico to do so, Ryan and McConnell acknowledged that they would help push the president’s proposal through Congress in the form of a bill known as a supplemental, which gets drafted outside the standard government funding process.

While the GOP leadership’s chart did mention the supplemental, Congress is staying out of the nitty-gritty of plans to actually build the wall, given its already full plate of other priorities.

“We will anticipate the supplemental coming from the administration very shortly on how to finish construction and the funding of the fence,” Ryan said.

Even if some Republicans are concerned that Trump’s fixations might veer the party off the pavement, at least one suggested it won’t make a difference -- and perhaps even allow lawmakers some breathing room to hunker down with the policies that matter the most to them.

“Not a problem for me,” Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho said, adding that on a complicated issue like Obamacare, “I think the president is open to whatever we can task that solves this problem.”

ABC News' MaryAlice Parks contributed to this report.

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