WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans spent their two-day retreat in West Virginia hashing out their priorities for the rest of the year, and No. 1 on the list was holding on to their majorities in the House and Senate.
With President Donald Trump's stubbornly low approval ratings and historical trends suggesting they'll lose seats in the November midterm elections, party leaders told lawmakers their salvation lies in hammering on the message that the tax cuts passed at the end of last year are putting more money in voters' pockets.
"The tax bill is part of a bigger theme that we're going to call The Great American comeback," said Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP. "If we stay focused on selling the tax reform package, I think we're going to hold the House and things are going to be OK for us."
Democrats are well positioned to bring one-party government in Washington to a halt after November, when all 435 House seats and one-third of Senate seats are on the ballot. Even if only one chamber flips to Democratic control, Trump's agenda will grind to a halt and his administration likely would face a slew of new investigations if Democrats gain control of oversight committees.
In one sign of Republican concern about the potential for major Democratic gains, 41 Republicans in the House have announced plans to retire, seek other office or have resigned during this Congress. That includes nine committee chairmen. By comparison, 17 Democrats are leaving.
"We're talking about this," said Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican who chairs the 170-member Republican Study Committee. "We're not pretending that this will go against the trend to keep the majority in the house."
Along with budget negotiations and raising the debt ceiling, immigration is the most contentious issue facing the lawmakers when they return to Washington next week. Yet only one breakout session addressed immigration, and there was no policy path presented by GOP leaders. Democrats and Republicans have struggled for weeks to find a compromise.
Republicans pointed to a recent poll suggesting their prospects in November elections aren't as dim as they feared.
A Jan. 28-30 Monmouth University poll found that 47 percent of adult Americans surveyed said they would vote for or are leaning toward the Democrat in their House districts, compared to 45 percent saying they favored the Republican. While that's a 2 percentage point advantage for Democrats, it's a decline from the 15-point advantage in the generic congressional ballot in Monmouth's December poll. However two other polls conducted over the same period found a bigger advantage for Democrats.
On taxes, the Monmouth poll found that 44 percent of adult Americans surveyed approve of the GOP tax bill, and 44 percent disapproved. Yet in December, just 26 percent approved while 47 percent disapproved. Stivers said the upward trend should continue as the tax cuts begin to affect paychecks in coming weeks.