By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 8:30 PM
Decamping 35 miles to the north, the resurgent House Republicans this week will host a parade of leading GOP officials - including several would-be challengers to President Obama next year - at a three-day retreat in Baltimore designed to forge unity on the party's agenda.
Led by House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), Republicans plan to hear from a host of experts on federal spending and long-term deficits, as well as discuss strategy for trying to repeal the Obama administration's health-care overhaul.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, both potential presidential contenders, will attend closed-door panels Friday. Barbour will participate along with Govs. Rick Perry (Tex.) and Robert F. McDonnell (Va.) in what is designed to be a free-wheeling discussion with governors who became leading party spokesmen on conservative issues before the GOP reclaimed the House in November with its 63-seat gain.
As originally planned, the retreat was to have a celebratory tone, since the House was slated to approve a repeal of the health-care law Wednesday. But after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in Tucson, Boehner has delayed having such a divisive debate and is urging bipartisan unity.
Such retreats are annual affairs for both Republicans and Democrats in the House. They once were held in more lavish resort settings, such as the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., but with the economy struggling to recover and the unemployment rate near double digits, both parties have scaled back. Democrats will head to Cambridge, Md., the weekend of Jan. 21.
This is the second year in a row that Republicans have gone to Baltimore, staying this year at a Marriott on the Inner Harbor. Last year's retreat turned into a high-profile showdown with Obama when the president and Republicans agreed to have a televised debate over health care and other issues; it lasted than 90 minutes, and the unusually open exchange riveted much of official Washington.
Neither the White House nor House Republicans wanted a repeat of that show.
This GOP class seeking its own identity, but the 2011 Republican retreat has heavy shades of the 1995 crop of Republicans, who took over the House after a historic midterm election. In addition to Gingrich, who was the speaker then, and Barbour, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee, guests at this year's retreat include Frank Luntz, who was one of Gingrich's top pollsters at the time.