House GOP heads to retreat seeking unity

House Republicans left Washington on Wednesday morning for a retreat that will be focused on unifying the conference after the fractious fight over the “fiscal cliff," and preparing for upcoming policy battles.
 
Several sources said the annual gathering, held this year at the tony Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., would have a different tone than previous years.
 
The theme of this year’s retreat is “Many Voices, One Conference,” a nod to the GOP’s internal, self-inflicted wounds from the handling of the fiscal cliff deal.

A number of lawmakers told The Hill privately that they were looking forward to the time allotted -- on Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon -- with their top two leaders, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Several lawmakers predicted that the session, entitled “Planning for the First Quarter,” could get heated, especially in light of the handful of GOP defectors who voted against Boehner for Speaker.
 

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Rabble-rousing conservatives such as Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas.) were spotted heading to the retreat. Former GOP presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and her husband were also seen climbing aboard the bus.
 
Many House Republicans, still angry at their leadership for holding votes on the fiscal cliff deal and the Hurricane Sandy relief bill – both items that failed to garner a majority of the majority -- will have several hours to vent, in both the two-hour morning session and afternoon policy session.
 
One GOP lawmaker predicted that conservatives will demand to know “when are we going to stand up for ourselves and when are we going to put bills on the floor that are going to get 218 Republican votes?”
 
“[Boehner and Cantor] want us to be team players, well, then put up a bill that I can vote for,” the frustrated lawmaker said.
 
Leaders hope to hash out the internal squabbling and frustrations plaguing Republicans ahead of upcoming policy fights with the White House and Senate.
 
With little more than one month until Congress will be faced with increasing the debt limit, extending government funding and reallocating billions in mandatory defense spending cuts, the three-day retreat will have a major policy aspect, in addition to team building.
 
“We need to talk through where we are going to stand on debt limit, Continuing Resolution and building consensus,” Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) told The Hill as he boarded the bus.
 
House Republicans will spend time recalibrating their role in the current government.
 
After losing the presidential election and failing to garner a majority in the Senate, House Republicans have had a difficult time navigating their role as the majority party in one-half of one-third of the government.
 
A senior GOP leadership aide described the role that House Republicans play as an effective “superminority,” in a government dominated by a Democratic White House and Democratic-led Senate.

It was unclear if former GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would lead a panel on the budget; as House Budget Committee Chairman, Ryan has led similar panels at previous retreats.  A source close to the conference said that Ryan was “not on the agenda” for the retreat.

A veteran GOP lawmaker told The Hill that “It seems like everything’s being put into place late.”
 
House GOP Conference Chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) has placed a high premium on “unity, vision and inspiration,” according to senior aides.
 
The speakers were chosen to instill a sense of unity, not necessarily for their role in politics.
 
For example, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – the GOP rock star until his recent public denouncement of Boehner for pulling the Sandy aid bill the first week of January – will not be this year’s keynote speaker.
 
McMorris Rodgers chose to invite Andy Andrews, a consultant who has worked with successful NFL teams and the University of Alabama championship football program on “developing winning strategies.”

Dozens of GOP lawmakers and their families boarded five “D.C. Tourism” buses on a rainy Wednesday morning outside of the Rayburn House Office Building for a quick ride to the train that sped them to Williamsburg.
 
Lawmakers were set for afternoon sessions with pollsters, conservative opinion leaders and Domino’s Pizza C.E.O. Patrick Doyle, capped by an “inspirational” speech from blind mountain-climber Erik Weihenmayer.
 
Conservative Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn will speak to the Republican crowd at a breakfast on Thursday morning.

--This report was originally published at 12:48 p.m. and last updated at 5:53 p.m.

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