Biden, Harris to headline House Dem retreat next week
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will keynote the House Democrats’ first-ever virtual retreat next week as the party looks to chart an aggressive policy agenda beyond its signature coronavirus aid package.
House Democrats will gather remotely Tuesday and Wednesday for a series of internal discussions on the party’s biggest priorities for the 117th Congress — from health care to immigration reform — as they hold control of the White House, House and Senate for the first time in a decade.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries announced the lineup to members Thursday, according to a letter shared first with POLITICO. Biden will speak to Democrats on Wednesday; Harris, as well as Secretary of State Tony Blinken, will address the caucus Tuesday.
In an interview, Jeffries said the retreat would be focused on the “multitude of crises” facing the American people, including the pandemic, the economic collapse, systemic racism, a broken immigration system and climate change.
“It is my expectation there will be robust intellectual discussions about the best ways to move forward in tackling all of these issues,” Jeffries said.
The retreat will take place as congressional Democrats enter the final stretch of their $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, which is expected to clear the House at the end of this week and move to the Senate the following week.
Over two days of intense discussions, House Democrats — led by Jeffries and Vice Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) — will privately debate a slew of highly charged issues that are expected to receive votes in the coming months. That includes immigration, which remains one of the most divisive issues for Democrats, particularly given their razor-thin margins in both chambers.
Unlike past years’ retreats, the Democratic Caucus will be looking to achieve more than a show of cohesion. This year, Democrats will be hashing out legislation that actually stands a chance of passage — something that lawmakers say brings more weight to the policy discussions — while navigating their most narrow majority in decades.
Democrats will hold five issue-specific panels featuring leaders from groups such as the AFL-CIO, Third Way, and the National Wildlife Federation. White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy will speak, as well as New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Teresa Romero of the United Farm Workers.
With Biden’s first pandemic aid package nearly complete, Democrats are eager to turn to their longer-term agenda, eyeing plans for a massive infrastructure or jobs package up next. Many in the House are already jostling behind the scenes over which of their many long-stalled priorities should come next.
House Democrats plan to spend the next three weeks teeing up a slew of bills that passed last Congress, delivering a shot of energy to the party’s base while signaling the issues it will seek to compromise with the Senate GOP on. But there will be fierce debates within the caucus over exactly which bills deserve floor time afterward.
The retreat, which is typically a high-energy bonding exercise held out of state, also offers a rare chance for the full caucus to come together after a chaotic first two months, where lawmakers survived a domestic terrorist attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, followed soon after by a historic second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
“Although the crises we face are historic, we are up to the task,” Jeffries wrote in a note to members, acknowledging the difficulties so far this year. “Despite the enormity of these challenges, House Democrats have risen to meet the moment.”
During the event, Jeffries will be broadcasting live from a studio — complete with two stages — that’s been built in the caucus’s office space. This year’s event may be without the star power of some previous years, such as the 2019 conversation with singer John Legend and best-selling author Chrissy Teigen, but members can still pick up prepared meals throughout the event, as well as a modest swag bag from the caucus staff. Members who are voting remotely will receive theirs by mail.
While Democrats will be holding their programming through a secure, virtual conference feed, House Republicans are planning an in-person retreat in the spring.