Main Street Caucus experiences rebirth in new House GOP majority
The Main Street Caucus, one of the five most influential factions of Republicans in the House, is finding its footing in the new GOP majority.
Chair Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Vice Chair Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) took charge of the group of more than 70 members at the start of the 118th Congress. Its goal, Johnson said, is to bring “responsibility, reasonableness [and] sensibility” to major priorities.
“In the same way that we were at the center of the Speaker election, we will be at the center of all those must-pass bills,” Johnson said.
The group in December had urged colleagues to support Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as he faced resistance that led to a five-day election saga on the House floor.
It is something of a rebirth for the group, after a previous Main Street Caucus push fell apart after the 2018 midterms brought in a Democratic House majority. Co-chairs Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), and Mike Bost (R-Ill.) passed the torch to Johnson and Bice after getting the caucus back off the ground.
“We were walking — now we’re running,” Bacon said.
But don’t call the group moderate. The Main Street Caucus bills itself as pragmatic, with a membership that ranges from members in toss-up seats to deep-red districts.
“We’re conservatives who understand that America has given us an opportunity to govern, and that’s an obligation that we can’t squander,” Johnson said. “Our leadership is, on average, more conservative than the House Republican Conference as a whole.”
The group was born out of the Republican Main Street Partnership, an outside political organization dedicated to boosting “governing Republicans” with an eye on an evolving “fiscally responsible and socially inclusive” GOP.
Johnson said that there was a sense members needed to have an “on-campus entity to pull the members together,” rather than just be part of the political group. Not every member that is part of the partnership is a member of the caucus, and vice versa.
“We are the majority makers — the men and women of Main Street from New York, New Jersey, Oregon. Without them, there would be no majority,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership.
Ideologically and stylistically, Main Street is in the center of the five most influential caucuses in the House GOP that McCarthy has dubbed the “five families” — in reference to the New York mafia.
On the most conservative end of the spectrum is the tactically aggressive House Freedom Caucus, while the Republican Study Committee was born during the Reagan era. Then there is the more centrist Republican Governance Group (formerly known as the Tuesday Group), and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
There is overlap in the membership with the other caucuses. But Bice, who is also part of the Republican Study Committee, said that Main Street is a bit more “dynamic.”
“We’re not drafting policy. We are not creating a budget,” Bice said. “We’re going to look at where we can have wins, what can we do to protect our members, but also find ways to be helpful and effective in crafting those policies.”
Despite some members thinking its weekly 8 a.m. caucus meetings are on the early side — most other caucuses meet for lunch — Johnson and Bice said that there is great attendance, with dozens of members showing up. They hear from speakers at the center of top policy issues that have so far included budget experts, McCarthy and House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.).
Main Street members are also in frequent communication with each other over text. Johnson said that they are “happy warriors.”
“It is a great gathering of people who focus on solutions rather than complaining about problems,” Johnson said.
Weekly meetings with the “five families” caucus leaders in McCarthy’s office have been incredibly valuable to navigating a narrow majority, Johnson said.
“I think a lot of the political insiders have been kind of surprised by how functional the Republican majority has been,” Johnson said. “If you watched that Speaker battle, you could have imagined that this would play out every week like some sort of terrible Greek tragedy, struggling to get to 218. Not only have we managed to get to 218 votes with Republicans, the majority of the meaningful bills that have passed out of here have been bipartisan.”
But even as the group aims to find solutions that can get to President Biden’s desk, the group is finding that friction on the debt limit and beyond continues to pose challenges.
“President Biden keeps talking about bipartisanship and wanting to work across the aisle and haven’t seen a lot of that just to be very frank,” Bice said. “My hope would be that yes, we would be able to work together. But … it’s a two-way street, and right now we’re not seeing a lot of that reciprocity.”
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