New RNC leader to House GOP: I'm here for work, not for show

BALTIMORE -- House GOP lawmakers on Saturday gave a standing ovation to new Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus for pledging to turn around the debt-ridden party apparatus, according to sources at the closed-door meeting.

Priebus, elected to be RNC Chairman on Friday, delivered a 10-minute speech to members of the new House majority party on the final day of their weekend long retreat in Charm City.

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According to sources at the private event, the former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman promised to run the RNC much differently than his predecessor, Michael Steele.

Steele, the first African-American to head the GOP’s national political apparatus, dropped his bid on Friday for a second term as RNC chairman after it was clear he did not have the votes to retain that title.

Priebus refrained from mentioning the name of his notoriously “self-interested,” gaffe-prone, “scandal-tarred predecessor” during his surprise visit with House GOP lawmakers, a source told The Hill.

Still, Priebus made it perfectly clear that the personality atop the RNC would not drive the news cycle, and that the organization would reach out to lawmakers as they attempt to retain control of the House, win control of the Senate and challenge a sitting president in 2012.

Steele had a rocky or non-existent relationship with GOP congressional officials, a handful of members confirmed.

In an interview with The Hill last year as the 2010 campaign heated up, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) revealed that he would only speak to Steele once or twice a month.

House GOP lawmakers, spouses and staff on hand for the final few hours of the retreat who heard the lesser-known Wisconsinite on Saturday welcomed his pledge to be more of a “workhorse than a show horse” – a distinction from Steele.

“(Priebus) said he would be less about him and more about us, which is a message that all of the conference wants to hear; he was very positive, very heartfelt, and grateful for the opportunity,” Arkansas GOP Rep. Steve Womack told The Hill.

While congressional GOP lawmakers attempt to get the nation’s “fiscal house in order,” Priebus faces a similar challenge of his own at the RNC drowning in $22 million of debt.

But, like fellow Badger State Republican and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Priebus said that he’s going to cut spending and get the RNC back on track.

His last-minute appearance on Saturday capped the House Republicans' three-day-long annual issues retreat, dubbed “Congress of Tomorrow.”

Much of the focus during the outside-the-beltway retreat centered on the impending decisions to tackle the nation’s debt and budget outlook.


The new House Majority campaigned and won control of the lower chamber last November on their promise to return the national budget to pre-economic stimulus and pre-bank bailout levels from the year 2008.

The March 4 deadline when the temporary government funding bill runs out has been approaching rapidly, which will be followed shortly thereafter by a tough vote on whether to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Boehner addressed that in his closing remarks on Saturday afternoon when he blamed the president and congressional Democrats for going on a “job-destroying spending spree that has left us with nothing but historic unemployment and the most debt in U.S. history.”

The Ohio lawmaker warned, “If they want us to help pay their bills, they are going to have to start cutting up their credit cards. Cutting up the credit cards means cutting spending – and implementing spending reforms to ensure we keep on cutting.”

More than 200 House GOP lawmakers and their families have been at the Baltimore Marriott overlooking the industrial city’s waterfront since Thursday.

This year’s retreat, dubbed “Congress of Tomorrow,” has been more academic and “get-to-know-you” than in previous years when the Republicans were in the minority party.

Retreat organizer and GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told The Hill on Saturday that members of the conference -- which includes 87 freshmen, the largest class in decades – is “through retreating and ready to charge.”

“They understand the plan that we (want to create) more jobs, they want less spending, and they want an effective government that gives more solutions to the problems that are facing their families – and this is a conference that is committed to doing that,” Hensarling said as he dashed off to catch a flight back to the Longhorn State.