The Hill Interview: GOP wins if seen as ‘party of optimism’

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) in an exclusive interview with The Hill said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who struggled through 15 ballots to be elected to the top House post earlier this year, will go down as one of the strongest Speakers in U.S. history.

Emmer also expressed confidence that Republicans will rally around a deal to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending, and he said Republicans can add to their majority next year by casting themselves as the party of optimism.

“I think it’s really important for Republicans to remember that we have to be the party of optimism, the party of a positive vision,” said Emmer, who spoke to The Hill as House Republicans enter a challenging stretch of the year.

“We have to be for things, not against things. We have to tell people what it is that we offer that the other side is not,” said Emmer, who is the third-ranking Republican in the House.

Emmer said the goal is to show that Republicans create environments where people have opportunities, and not to give out handouts.

The House GOP has had a relatively strong period in power since McCarthy’s struggle to win the Speakership, showing unity and putting Democrats on defense at times on issues related to crime and energy.

But the GOP faces a series of challenges in the coming months as the party seeks to rally around a single debt-reduction plan and deal with the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortion politics has given Democrats several political victories, and the GOP has been divided over its best approach to the issue.

On the debt ceiling, Emmer said he is “confident” that House Republicans will get enough votes to pass their debt limit and policy reform bill. It pairs a $1.5 trillion debt limit increase with what the GOP says will amount to around $4.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade.

When the House left for the weekend, however, leaders were scrambling to shore up support for quick passage of the bill this week. Emmer is charged with rallying the 222 members of the slim, four-seat House majority to support legislation, a task that requires appeasing the hardline conservatives while making sure members in difficult swing districts are comfortable.

Republicans will have much more leverage in the spending fight if they can rally their troops behind their bill, which would put pressure on the Senate to act and on President Biden to come to the negotiating table.

“They haven’t done anything over in the Senate. I expect if they like what we send over, that they will pass it through the Senate and the president will sign it,” Emmer said. “If they don’t like it, well, then I think the only other action the president can take is to come and sit down with the Speaker.”

Biden has called for a “clean” debt increase with no other stipulations, and he refused to negotiate with McCarthy until House Republicans produce a 10-year budget framework.

On abortion, Emmer did not embrace any moves toward a national ban. The Hill interviewed Emmer before the Supreme Court issued a ruling that for now prevents restrictions on the common abortion pill mifepristone from moving forward.

“This is a federal system. We live in a constitutional republic. Under that system, the states are supposed to know best,” Emmer said when asked about abortion.

Emmer’s comments are similar in theme to remarks by former President Trump, who has emphasized that abortion decisions should be made by states.

McCarthy last week also distanced himself from embracing a national abortion ban, marking a change in Republican leadership on the issue as it challenges Republicans in elections.

In the interview with The Hill, Emmer indicated he might not endorse a presidential candidate in the 2024 primary. 

“I don’t endorse,” Emmer said. “I’ll make my decision as we go forward about who I’m going to support. But I’m going to respect the people that I work for at home, to tell me — with them — who they think that person should be, and I’m going to honor that.

He declined to weigh in on whether he agreed with Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel that all 2024 presidential primary candidates who participate in debates should pledge to support the eventual nominee — including Trump.

He also offered words of approval for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has yet to enter the presidential race but is seen as the strongest GOP rival to Trump.

“I know Ron DeSantis. I think he’s a class act. I think he’s a brilliant human being. I think he’s proven to be a great chief executive in Florida. I look forward to what the next few months are going to bring,” Emmer said.

A wave of House Republicans has offered endorsements for Trump in the last week.

Emmer, who led the House GOP campaign arm in 2020 and 2022, said the formula for success in 2024 is “simple.”

“You need the right candidate with the right message that has enough resources to get that message out to win — to win elections,” Emmer said. “We did very well the last two cycles. In fact, we were the only Republican operation in the environment that was successful. I’m proud of that.”

House Republicans exceeded some expectations in the 2020 elections, though 2022 — the year they won the majority — was seen as a disappointment in that the party did not gain more seats.

In 2022, crime was an issue that animated Republican turnout in New York, leading to Republicans flipping four House seats in the state — and Emmer said it’s “going to be an issue at the ballot box” in 2024.

Emmer also offered strong support for McCarthy, who has had to deal with questions about his ability to lead the GOP conference since before his election as Speaker.

McCarthy “is going to go down in history, I believe, as one of the most powerful speakers in the last 100 years,” Emmer told The Hill.

Tags Kevin McCarthy Ron DeSantis Tom Emmer

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