May 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: House centrist groups eye bipartisan policy partnership

Reps. Annie Kuster and Dave Joyce. Photo: Office of Rep. Annie Kuster.

Two groups whose membership accounts for nearly 1/3 of the House of Representatives have been quietly meeting to explore potential areas of bipartisan cooperation, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The combined muscle of the center-left New Democrat Coalition and center-right Republican Governance Group gives them greater leverage for joint initiatives than the 61-member Problem Solvers Caucus.

Driving the news: The two groups hosted a Wednesday meeting with U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly focused on transatlantic trade, national security and Ukraine, a New Dems spokesperson told Axios.

  • "This meeting is part of a continued effort between New Dems and RG2 to find bipartisan areas of cooperation in a closely divided House," the spokesperson said.
  • That gathering came after a joint zoom call on Tuesday with the Business Roundtable, led by Apple CEO Tim Cook, focused on immigration reform.
  • A happy hour mixer for the two groups is in the works, Axios was told.

By the numbers: The 98-member New Democrat Coalition, led by Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), has grown rapidly in recent cycles and now comprises nearly half the House Democratic Caucus.

  • The Governance Group, led by Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), is smaller – just 42 members, many from swing districts.
  • The two groups laid the groundwork for cooperation early in the 118th Congress by launching similar policy task forces on issues including fiscal responsibility, health care, border security and the debt ceiling.

What's next: New Dems are pitching bipartisan immigration reform talks as Republicans prepare to vote on a sweeping border package that would codify some of the Trump administration's strictest immigration measures.

  • In a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) — obtained by Axios — 44 members of the Democratic group said the GOP bill "will not improve our immigration," calling for "bipartisan collaboration" to address the border crisis.
  • "Our members are opposed to it," Kuster said of the GOP bill, "And what we heard from our [Republican] colleagues is that they are troubled by some aspects of that bill and they would like a compassionate process."

The details: In addition to immigration reform, the letter pitches a raft of border measures that could entice GOP support.

  • The proposals include investing in border technology and port of entry infrastructure, ramping up Border Patrol hiring and new resources to take down smuggling operations.
  • A letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee, signed by 30 Democrats, proposes increased funding for law enforcement efforts against fentanyl trafficking – another GOP priority.

What they're saying: Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), one of the vice chairs of the Governance Group, said having the two groups meet "forces good dialogue to happen," adding, "This place needs more dialogue."

  • Kuster said that one contrast with the Problem Solvers Caucus – where she said she has "a lot of friends" – is "they talk about common solutions, but then when push comes to shove they vote with their caucus."
  • "What we're trying to find," she said, "is where do we agree on solutions that we can go back and sell to our respective caucuses?"

What we're watching: Kuster said the two groups have "a number of issues in common" beyond immigration, and that they are "starting to have conversations about [energy] permitting reform."

  • She said the debt ceiling "definitely could be" another one of those issues the groups try to tackle: "If you just do the math ... to get to 60 [Senate votes] it's going to be probably from the middle out."
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