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At House GOP retreat, legislative priorities jelled and Trump loomed large

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, the House is back in session after a GOP retreat that reinvigorated the Republican majority's political agenda. That agenda includes potential bills on everything from education to the budget to immigration. Here is the third-ranking House Republican, Elise Stefanik, touting their accomplishments so far.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELISE STEFANIK: We are driving this policy agenda more than the Senate. And, you know, we are playing our role as the last backstop for the American people from single-party Democrat rule.

CHANG: But House Republicans also argue that there is still plenty of room for bipartisan work with Democrats, too. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales attended the Orlando, Fla., retreat and joins us now. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So these retreats, I mean, they're often considered an opportunity for the party to solidify their upcoming legislative priorities. And based on that, tell us, what do you think is next for the House now?

GRISALES: Well, they're focusing on bills, on education, border security and perhaps looking at efforts - they could look at banking related to these bank failures, not to mention continued focus on investigations into the Biden administration and the president's family. And with a very tight majority in the House, Republicans know they have their work cut out for them. So during the retreat, for example, they heard from former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees to try to inspire them to get on the same page.

CHANG: OK.

GRISALES: And so - yeah, so a little bit of a technique. They're hoping they can build some teamwork from that. But at the same time, I talked to one Republican who described the party in two groups. There's pragmatists and purists, and they're essentially at phase one of working together. They've seen a lot of unity, even after the drama of trying to elect their speaker, Speaker McCarthy. That said, they're going to face some real challenges when they get to attempts on agreeing on complex issues such as the debt ceiling.

CHANG: Yeah, the debt ceiling. I mean, if the debt ceiling is not addressed, the country could be looking at a financial default. Where do Republicans stand on that right now?

GRISALES: Right. That's what we're still waiting to learn more about. McCarthy is pushing for yet another meeting with President Biden instead of actually presenting specifics for a proposal from Republicans. They're also weighing proposals they could offer up, such as policy goals related to border security. But this is clearly going to be a difficult process for the party to reach a deal to avoid this financial default. That all said, they do see opportunities for bipartisan work, perhaps on addressing issues related to China. But it remains to be seen if they can reach that same kind of bipartisan agreement when it comes to the debt ceiling.

CHANG: Right. Well, we mentioned that Republicans are looking to put bills forward on a whole range of issues. Can you just give us a sense of what could be coming to the floor soon?

GRISALES: Right. So there are several bills that they are taking to the floor that will not leave Congress, but they're key to Republicans and demands they're hearing from their constituents. Like, for example, Republicans will put a, quote, "Parents' Bill of Rights" bill on the floor this week. This is related to education and concerns there. And when it comes to immigration, Republicans admit they're split even among their own party on how to address that. So they concede they're just going to focus on a bill that they want to bring to the floor imminently that just focuses on border security. Republicans also said they expect to put out a budget proposal sometime in the coming weeks or months. But some privately admit it will be hard with a five-seat majority.

CHANG: Indeed. Well, Republicans at this retreat wanted to find solutions for many of the challenges that they face. But I'm wondering, Claudia, how much did former President Trump's ongoing legal troubles cast a shadow on any of that?

GRISALES: Very large. We saw Tuesday come and go without any indictments against the former president, but yet it took up a lot of oxygen at the retreat. And while Republicans said they did not want to spend so much time focusing on this and wanted to focus instead on the issues that - for example, the bills they want to bring to the floor - it still was a clear reminder that the topic of President Trump will continue to dominate the subject for House Republicans for a long time to come.

CHANG: That is NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.