Campaigns

GOP plan for suburbs includes bills focused on child care, health costs

Democratic wins in traditionally Republican areas helped fuel House takeover last year

Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner said legislation being produced by a Republican caucus will help the party compete for votes in suburban areas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Leaders of a group formed by House Republicans after Democrats routed GOP candidates in suburbs around the country in the 2018 midterms said Wednesday that they would roll out dozens of bills in the coming months to show the party can appeal to voters beyond rural areas.

The product of a new suburban caucus launched last spring by Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner, the agenda might look familiar to anyone following the Democratic presidential campaigns. Caucus task forces have been dedicated to making health care affordable, supporting family caregivers and increasing school safety, for example.

Wagner and the task force leaders — Reps. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, French Hill of Arkansas, Rob Wittman of Virginia and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington — said at a Capitol news conference they planned to approach “kitchen table issues” with a conservative lens.

“Too many Americans have the false impression that Republicans only engage with rural voters and leave suburbs by the wayside,” Wagner said. “And that is simply not true. And we are here to push back against that myth and prove that we are working, and have been working, and we’ll be continuing to work and fight for our suburbs.”

Caucus members did not provide legislative details. Wagner said the first group of what would ultimately be 40 bills should be introduced next month, some with bipartisan support.

With Democrats in control of the House, it is unclear how many bills would get votes or become law. But they could provide talking points for Republicans in vulnerable districts and candidates seeking to recapture areas that had been considered solid GOP territory before President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.

“We need to be addressing these issues: Workplace flexibility, affordable housing, homelessness issues, paid family medical leave, the cost of childcare,” McMorris Rodgers said. “On the left, right now we see proposals like ‘Medicare for All’ the Green New Deal. And, you know, those are the very policies that would really devastate middle-income families, that would threaten our quality of life.”

The caucus members did not mention the 2020 election during their prepared remarks. But when asked about it, Wagner acknowledged Republican losses in the suburbs in 2018.

“I won my last election in a pure suburban district because I talked about these very issues,” she said.

Wagner’s 2nd District, near St. Louis, is one of several where Democrats think they can expand their dominance in the suburbs. She is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of 2020 targets, although so far she does not have a credible challenger.

DCCC spokeswoman Courtney Rice dismissed Wagner's plan. The GOP is losing ground in suburban districts because they back “a special interests-focused agenda of tax cuts for big corporations and making health care less affordable,” she said. “In 2020, Wagner herself will realize just how toxic the GOP agenda has become.” 

Trump won the district by 10 percentage points in 2016, but Wagner won last year by just 4 points — at the same time Republicans in other parts of Missouri won by double digits.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2020 race in the district Lean Republican. The other members on the podium with Wagner on Wednesday represent Solid Republican districts.

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