Young GOP lawmakers push for fresh approach

Young GOP lawmakers push for fresh approach
© Greg Nash

Younger lawmakers in the House GOP conference are pressing their leadership for a fresh approach on policy and messaging, arguing it will help Republicans win over young voters going forward.

A group of more than a dozen lawmakers has been meeting informally to discuss how to attract younger voters, though they aren’t necessarily united on every policy issue.

Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherLawmakers target ZTE, Huawei in defense bill GOP rep calls on House to cancel August recess Overnight Defense: Senators to unveil bill to rein in 'national security' tariffs | Over 100 lawmakers urge Mattis to reverse transgender ban | AI debate flares at Google MORE (R-Wis.), 34, has introduced legislation to impose term limits on members, while Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveDems best GOP as Scalise returns for annual charity baseball game Mia Love to join GOP men's congressional baseball team House immigration fight could boost vulnerable Republicans MORE (R-Utah), 42, talks of the importance of making contraception more available.

Rep. Scott TaylorScott William TaylorRNC mum on whether it will support Trump-backed Corey Stewart House panel rejects war authorization sunset it passed last year Trump loyalty tests, surging number of women winners defines Tuesday's election results MORE (R-Va.), 38, cites net neutrality as an issue where Republicans would benefit from a new approach, while Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Hoyer: GOP centrists 'sold out' Dreamers Wall Street Journal warns GOP may lose House and Senate over immigration MORE (R-Fla.), 38, is focused on immigration.

What the lawmakers agree on is that the party and House Republican Conference, in particular, need to do more on policies important to Gen Xers and millennials.

“There are a number of issues that Republicans have either consistently forfeited or punted, and I think most younger members want to put an end to that,” Curbelo told The Hill. “And we want to have an answer for all of the challenges and all of the concerns that people have in our country, especially those who are our fellow Gen Xers and millennials.”

A number of the Republicans in the group, such as Curbelo, are facing challenging reelection prospects in a midterm year where Democrats believe they can win back the House.

Others, such as Reps. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGOP lawmakers demand drafts of DOJ report on Clinton email investigation Live coverage: IG releases watchdog report on FBI, Clinton probe Ryan remarks on Trump ‘spygate’ leave conservatives fuming MORE (R-Fla.), 36, and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikPoll: More Democrats than Republicans say US would benefit from more elected women GOP doubles female recruits for congressional races Overnight Defense: Fallout over Trump tariffs | Pentagon says 'too early' to know impact on defense industry | Pompeo touts 'real progress' toward Korea summit MORE (R-N.Y.), 33, are seen as relatively safe but still argue their conference would benefit from an infusion of youthful energy.

“We need to focus on the issues that win the future, you know, how we engage in digital commerce, issues like climate change, issues like cannabis reform,” Gaetz told The Hill.  

Love — the only black Republican woman in Congress — said the GOP conference needs a break from its old way of doing things if they want to remain in the majority. 

“I think that there are some issues that we as a generation, a new generation of Republicans coming in have different thoughts and different ideas and we’re trying to shake some of that up and say, ‘Look, you know, the younger generation, there are still Republicans, but we’re abandoning them on a lot of these really important issues,’ ” she told The Hill.

Love, who faces a competitive race this fall, said that while she’s a strong believer in the GOP’s platform, she’d like to see the party modernize on issues like climate change and birth control.

“You know there’s this idea that you’re either pro-energy production or are pro-clean air — and that’s ... a false narrative — you can actually have both,” she said.

The Utah Republican also noted she spearheaded legislation to legalize Food and Drug Administration-approved over-the-counter contraceptives for those over the age of 18, a policy area Republicans of past generations wouldn’t necessarily embrace. 

“I’m a pro-lifer — I think it’s incredibly important. But I’m also the one that wrote the bill on over-the-counter contraceptives. I think it’s important for women to have access to contraceptives,” she said. “And it’s all based around my belief of it’s important for women to be able to have control of their health and be able to get access to contraceptives at a really low cost before they have to make a decision between keeping a life and ending a life.”

It’s not unusual for younger lawmakers in the House to chafe at an older leadership.

A number of Democratic lawmakers over the years have pushed for changes to the party’s House leadership, which is led by a trio of politicians in their late 70s who have been at the top of the conference for more than a decade.

GOP lawmakers on average are six years younger than their Democratic House colleagues, and their leadership team is also younger.

Yet a number of young Republicans in Congress think the minority’s messaging strategy is more effective when it comes to winning over young people.

On net neutrality, the Obama-era rules intended to protect an open internet that the GOP-controlled Federal Communications Commission is repealing, some younger Republicans think their party lost to Democrats in the messaging battle.

“Net neutrality is probably the perfect example of something that was at the conference that quite frankly a lot of members didn’t understand, even younger members,” said Taylor.

“Younger voters saw the way the Democrats messaged that very well. Your average younger voter was like, ‘Oh my God, the Republicans are doing bad stuff.’ That really wasn’t the case, but ... we were not messaging in a way that ensured younger voters hey, we’re actually helping things, not hurting things.”

Taylor said he thinks Republicans could use work on reaching voters of all generations, not just millennials. 

Gaetz said he’s confident the GOP can continue to win elections, but they aren’t going to be able to do so without attracting younger voters, which will require them to change certain perceptions.

“One, I think we need to make it very clear that we don’t hate gay people,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we want to deconstruct the concept of the American family, I think we need to support the family as the principal institution of American life. But for people who don’t fit neatly into that, you know, ‘Leave it to Beaver’ mentality, there needs to be broader acceptance in our party.

“Second, we’ve got to end our party’s war on science,” Gaetz said. “Cannabis can help people as medicine; the Earth is warming; people don’t choose to be gay. I think an acknowledgment of that will be very helpful in winning younger voters.”

Top Republicans in the House said they are taking strides to incorporate younger members’ ideas into their messaging strategy in an attempt to expand their voter base. 

“All issues provide an opportunity for us to reach and connect with millennials, and we are taking advantage of those opportunities,” a GOP leadership aide told The Hill. “For instance, with Democrats standing firm against tax cuts and regulatory reform, this is an area where we can win with millennial voters because they care about succeeding in a strong economy.”