McCarthy rolls out House GOP 'Commitment to America' ahead of midterms

The plan largely leans on high inflation, crime and more, but eschews specifics.

September 23, 2022, 2:48 PM

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday rolled out an agenda he says House Republicans would follow should they retake control of the chamber after this year's midterms.

The plan, dubbed the "Commitment to America," marks McCarthy's most concrete attempt to outline a policy agenda to try to persuade voters ahead of November's races, in which the GOP is favored -- but not guaranteed -- to flip the House. The proposal seeks to replicate former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America," an agenda released in 1994 when Republicans won control of the House for the first time in decades.

McCarthy's blueprint, first posted online on Thursday, contains four overarching goals: creating "an economy that's strong," "a nation that's safe," "a future that's built on freedom" and "a government that's accountable."

On Friday, speaking in front of about 30 House Republicans seated in a heating and air conditioning warehouse in Monongahela, Pennsylvania -- a key battleground state -- he made a point of showing a pocket-sized card with the plan's main points, again reminiscent of the "Contract with America."

"What we're going to roll out today is a commitment to America in Washington. Not Washington, D.C., but Washington County, Pennsylvania," McCarthy, R-Calif., began. Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and No. 3 House Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York made remarks as well, with each pulling out and holding up the card, expounding on how the party initiatives will drive home Republican victories with just over a month and a half left in the race.

PHOTO: House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at DMI Companies in Monongahela, Pa., on Sept. 23, 2022. McCarthy joined with other House Republicans to unveil their "Commitment to America" agenda.
House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at DMI Companies in Monongahela, Pa., on Sept. 23, 2022. McCarthy joined with other House Republicans to unveil their "Commitment to America" agenda.
Barry Reeger/AP

"We want an economy that is strong. That means you can fill up your tank. You can buy the groceries, you have enough money left over to go to Disneyland and save for a future that the paychecks grow–they no longer shrink," McCarthy said. "We have a plan. For a nation that's safe. That means your community will be protected. Your law enforcement will be respected. Your criminals will be prosecuted. We believe in a future that's built on freedom that your children come first."

In a video released on Thursday, the minority leader cast the plan as a panacea for the country's struggles, arguing the proposal would fix inflation, lower crime and other issues he lays at the feet of the Democratic majority in Washington.

"Violent crime is at record highs in our streets and neighborhoods. The border has become a national security crisis, with fentanyl killing our fellow citizens. Soaring inflation has shrunk paychecks and sent us into a recession. And our kids have fallen further behind thanks to school closures and lockdowns," McCarthy says in the clip, seemingly filmed in a grocery store.

"The White House and the Democrat majority in Congress control Washington. They're in charge. This is their record," he says. "And yet, they want you to give them two more years in power. But Republicans have a plan for a new direction -- one that'll get our country back on track."

Within hours, President Joe Biden responded to the GOP's proposal when he spoke at a Democratic National Committee event in Washington, calling it a "thin series of policy goals with little to no detail."

"In the course of nearly an hour, here’s a few of the things we didn’t hear: We didn’t hear him mention the right to choose, we didn’t hear him mention Medicare, we didn’t hear him mention Social Security," Biden said of McCarthy's roll-out in Pennsylvania.

The president also hit Republicans for saying they want to "preserve constitutional freedom" while they've supported the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and for discussing election integrity while some members of the party still spread falsehoods about the 2020 election.

"With a straight face, Kevin McCarthy says that MAGA Republicans are gonna restore faith in our elections. As we say in my faith: ‘Bless me, father, for I have sinned,'" Biden said.

Republicans holding its agenda rollout in Pennsylvania highlights its political importance as the two parties are locked in a battle for the swing state.

Republicans could pick up as many as five House seats in Pennsylvania, where a fiery Senate contest is brewing between Democrat John Fetterman and Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz. Biden himself has traveled to the state three separate times over the past month.

McCarthy on Friday appeared with a broad cross-section of House members, including moderates like retiring John Katko, N.Y., who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a prominent firebrand.

He teed up some of the first actions Republicans might take should they regain the House in November, noting that the first bill they'd focus on would be centered on repealing "87,000 IRS agents"-- an alleged hiring spree Republicans say is aimed at harassing middle-class Americans but something that has not occurred and will not come to fruition, according to the Treasury Department report . McCarthy's reference was to claims made by Republican lawmakers and right-wing media personalities that $80 billion the Internal Revenue Service is set to receive in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act will be used to beef up tax enforcement overall.

Most of the money will go toward improving taxpayer services and modernizing antiquated, paper-based IRS operations, according to Treasury and the IRS, in an effort to update an agency well documented as being chronically starved of resources for decades.

"That very first day that we're sworn in, you'll see that it all changes," he said. "Because on our very first bill, we're going to repeal 87,000 IRS agents."

Stefanik said another of the first actions taken by a potential Republican majority would be to hire additional law enforcement officers across the country.

"House Republicans will immediately ensure that we hire 200,000 more police officers across this country to make sure that our communities are safe," she said. "We will go after the radical leftist prosecutors, DAs, who are refusing to abide by the rule of law and are prioritizing criminals rather than a law abiding citizens."

The proposals largely lean on issues that Republicans believe are advantageous for them this cycle, including stubbornly high inflation, concerns over crime and increases in southern border crossings.

While intended to detail what an agenda could look like in a GOP House majority, the plan is light on specifics. Included in the "commitment" are platitudes like "support[ing] our troops," "exercis[ing] peace through strength with our allies to counter increasing global threats," "recover[ing] lost learning from school closures" and "uphold[ing] free speech."

The proposal also boasts of "rigorous oversight," though no specific investigatory efforts are laid out.

"What we see with a Democrat controlling both the House and Senate is they feel entitled they feel like it's the other way around that you work for them. Not so in a Republican majority. We will hold this administration accountable. We will make sure that we are conducting oversight, we will root out the corruption and return it to the People's House," Stefanik said.

Among the more specific policy suggestions are "support[ing] 200,000 more police officers through recruiting bonuses" and "repealing proxy voting," which House members of both parties have relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republicans in Congress praised the plan on Thursday, saying it hits on the right policies.

"This is a guide a map to what we'll do to a majority and I think the future speaker is handling it exactly the way it should be," said Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "We've got the best candidates we've ever had, we've got the right message. It's about cost of living, it's about crime. It's about the border.

When asked if the plan was specific enough, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon said, "More of this is what we believe in, and this is what we are going to fight for. And I think they are good and I embrace them."

The commitment was notably circumspect on one issue that has roiled the midterms: abortion.

"This election is about kitchen-table issues ... inflation," Emmer maintained. "You've got to have a position [on abortion], but [kitchen-table issues] are going to decide the election," he said.

PHOTO: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters as he walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2022.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters as he walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The release of McCarthy's vision for his caucus comes amid what strategists and lawmakers of both parties have suggested is a turning of the midterm tide away from what was expected to be a red tsunami earlier this year.

The Supreme Court's June decision eliminating constitutional protections for abortion and a Democratic legislative hot streak this summer -- including passage of the Inflation Reduction Act -- have helped level the playing field as generic ballot polling shows Democrats closing the gap with the GOP.

The changed landscape has thrown into question control of the Senate, currently split 50/50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties, though Republicans are still favored by analysts to flip the House.

McCarthy's decision to release a plan runs counter to the strategy of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has said he will unveil an agenda only if the Senate is controlled by Republicans next year.

"If we're fortunate enough to have the majority ... I'll be the majority leader. I'll decide, in consultation with my members, what to put on the floor," he said earlier this year.

Democrats, for their part, came out swinging Thursday against McCarthy's agenda, arguing that House Republicans are stoking divisions while President Joe Biden's plans are the ones that would actually tackle the nation's issues.

"Republicans are mistaken if they think their political stunt less than 7 weeks before the election will be enough to distract voters from their toxic record. While Democrats deliver critical investments, bring jobs back home from China, and fight to lower costs, Republicans stoke fear for power, obstruct popular legislation that will help everyday families, defend MAGA extremism, and push to ban abortion nationwide," said Chris Taylor, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

ABC News' Isabella Murray and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.