Kicking off party retreat, Democratic leaders pledge to take bipartisan approach to infrastructure

“We want to do that in a bipartisan fashion with the president, with the Senate, with the House,” Hoyer says

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., speaks during the House Democrats’ 2019 Issues Conference opening press conference at the Landsdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg, Va., on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

LEESBURG, Va. — House Democrats are gathered here for their annual retreat to flesh out the details of their party’s agenda, but on at least one issue, they are pledging a bipartisan approach.

Infrastructure is among the top topics Democrats plan to focus on during their issues conference, which kicked off Wednesday afternoon and will run until midday Friday. 

“When we talked about jobs and wages and good-paying jobs, we talked about infrastructure,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said of Democrats’ campaign promises. The Maryland Democrat noted that hearings and meetings on the topic have already occurred. 

Democrats will use what Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a “series of workshops” to help bring their caucus together on a variety of issues. But on infrastructure, they want to do more than develop a Democratic plan.

“We want to do that in a bipartisan fashion with the president, with the Senate, with the House,” Hoyer said. 

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn said the discussion will be broad — not just about roads, bridges, ports and rails — but water and sewers and other forms of  infrastructure. 

House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján spoke of the importance of addressing broadband needs as part of an infrastructure push.

Other topics Democrats plan to discuss during the retreat include health care and immigration, with their primary focus being on economic issues. 

This April offsite gathering comes later than Democrats had initially planned. They had scheduled the annual retreat for Feb. 13-15 but had to postpone it after the fiscal 2019 funding deadline was punted to the latter date.

Pelosi said the delay had an “added benefit” because Democrats on Friday will be observing their first 100 days back in the majority and “can take great pride in what’s happened” over the past several months under their leadership. 

The California Democrat cited passage of HR 1, her caucus’s campaign finance, ethics and voting rights overhaul, as the greatest “symbol of change” from the first 100 days. As Democrats talk about what they want to do next, Pelosi emphasized the importance of unity — a day after they had to abandon hope of bringing a budget caps bill to the floor amid intraparty divisions. 

“Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power,” she said. “And that unity is how we’re building consensus around issues here.”

Achieving that unity could be easier said than done, particularly as the progressive wing of the caucus looks to push policies that may not find support among vulnerable Democrats in GOP-leaning districts, facing tough re-elections.

Republicans are already tying House Democrats to proposals like the Green New Deal and to high-profile progressive members such as New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said her role at the retreat will be to outline how to expand her party’s control of the House in 2020. She plans to emphasize how success on the campaign trail is critical to moving forward on Democrats’ policy goals.

“All of that only happens if we stay in the majority and if we continue to grow the majority," Bustos said.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.Also watch: 2020 Democrats at labor event can’t stop talking jobs

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.