House Republicans begin annual retreat under tight security

Dozens of Capitol Hill policemen and Baltimore City police surrounded the Marriott Waterfront hotel as GOP House members arrived for their annual retreat on Thursday.

The streets lining the Charm City hotel, located in the Inner Harbor, were congested with bumper-to-bumper U.S. Capitol Police cars, while plainclothes and uniformed cops manned the lobby.

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One GOP aide explained that an increase in security precautions was expected since Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) ascended to the Speaker’s chair and in the wake of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

According to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), turnout for this year’s retreat — dubbed “Congress of Tomorrow” — appears to be very high.

Simpson said that “just about all” of the largest GOP freshman class in decades was in attendance at the retreat.

With more than 80 new faces to learn, this year’s annual weekend-long getaway outside of Washington will provide members with the opportunity to get to know each other, as well as discuss key issues with influential politicians and pundits behind closed doors.

The Idaho lawmaker said the retreat was a time to “reconnect with colleagues that we don’t see all that often and get to know the new freshmen.”

The retreat started late in the afternoon on Thursday and ends midday Saturday.

GOP lawmakers heard from political wordmaster Frank Luntz during an evening session on Thursday titled “Language of America.” Conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager was set to be the featured guest at a dinner later that night.

According to an invitation included in the registration packet, members and spouses have the opportunity to grab a late-night beverage with Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at an “After Hours” reception.

The retreat is being held for a second consecutive year in Baltimore.

Friday will be a long day for members at the retreat — including a breakfast and lunch with potential GOP presidential contenders.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) will kick off the day with an early breakfast, followed by breakout sessions on the budget, debt, jobs and the economy and a lunchtime presentation on coordinating with state governments.

On the top of many GOP lawmakers' minds, however, has been the impending vote on whether to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Members will have an opportunity to discuss the matter at a panel on the budget and debt with Boston University Professor Laurence Kotlikoff, former Bush economic adviser Keith Hennessey and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s former economic adviser, Kevin Hassett.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) are set to address the group during the lunch meeting on how the House majority party can coordinate with state governors.

Barbour and Gingrich have been mentioned as possible presidential contenders.

GOP conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) is in charge of the schedule of events; hence the presence of big-name Texans Gramm and Perry at key events.

On Friday night, conservative columnist George Will is scheduled to give the keynote address at dinner.

Saturday will include a discussion on the healthcare law with former Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Leavitt.

All events are closed to the public and press, but media have staked out the retreat and will likely have an opportunity to speak with members throughout the day.