The Morning Dispatch: House GOP, Live from Orlando

Plus: A follow-up report on abuse at a Christian camp.

Happy Tuesday! There’s a high of 85 degrees in the nation’s capital today. Your Morning Dispatchers humbly request all newsmakers to chill out and keep things slow while we’re working on our tans.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States plans to share up to 60 million doses of its AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine stockpile with countries around the world in the coming months, the White House said yesterday. “Given the strong portfolio of vaccines that the U.S. already has and that have been authorized by the FDA, and given that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not authorized for use in the U.S., we do not need to use the AstraZeneca vaccine here during the next several months,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said.

  • The U.S. Census Bureau reported the results of last year’s Census yesterday, finding the U.S. population grew 7.4 percent from 308,745,538 in 2010 to 331,449,281 in 2020—the slowest rate of growth since the Great Depression. The Census apportionment results will lead to Texas gaining two seats in the House of Representatives, five states gaining one seat each, and seven states losing one seat each.

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland announced yesterday the Department of Justice is opening an investigation into the city of Louisville, Kentucky and its police department, focused on the department’s use of force and whether it engages in discriminatory policing or unreasonable stops, searches, seizures, and arrests.

  • Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced yesterday the Department will begin an internal review aimed at rooting out “domestic violent extremism threats” within its ranks.

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom will officially face a recall election this fall after state election officials confirmed organizers of the recall push collected more than 1.6 million valid signatures. Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio announced he is running to fill Sen. Rob Portman’s U.S. Senate seat, and former Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham launched a bid for governor of South Carolina. Former Republican Rep. Doug Collins announced yesterday that he will not be a candidate for governor or the U.S. Senate next year.

  • The United States confirmed 48,037 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 4.9 percent of the 974,776 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 467 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 572,666. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 27,672 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 2,107,046 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 140,969,663 Americans having now received at least one dose.

With the House GOP in Orlando

Republican members of the House of Representatives are convening in Orlando this week for the party’s annual issues conference, where they will rally around a new policy platform ahead of the 2022 midterms.

A central question here—perhaps the central question—is the one Republicans have been wrestling with since November: What role should former President Donald Trump play in the future of the GOP?

With her eye on retaking the majority, House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney is struggling to steer her conference toward a more substantive policy agenda and away from Trump, who she no longer perceives as the leader of the GOP. “I think right now, the Republican Party is headed by Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy in the House,” she told reporters Monday. “I think our elected leaders, you know, are the ones who are in charge of the Republican Party.”

Cheney made clear last week—ahead of the three-day retreat—that Trump wouldn’t be attending, even though his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach is just 170 miles away from Orlando. “I haven’t invited him,” she said.

Cheney is one of only 10 House Republicans—and the only member of House GOP leadership—who voted to impeach the former president back in January. Asked by CNN’s Mike Warren whether Trump should join the nearly 400 people who have been or will be prosecuted for crimes related to the Capitol breach, Cheney simply said “that’s a decision that the Justice Department is gonna have to make. … There are ongoing criminal investigations, and those will play out.”

The events Monday only further highlighted the growing divide between Cheney, the highest-ranking woman in the GOP, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who continues to stand by Trump. “We don’t put out the invitation to the retreat,” McCarthy told reporters last week, explaining why the former president wasn’t scheduled to attend. “It’s not like retreats in the past where there’s federal speakers coming in. We don’t have any. … But I welcome the president coming and speaking.”

But nearly three months after she easily overcame (145-61) an effort to remove her from House GOP leadership on a secret ballot, Cheney maintained to The Dispatch that conflicting stances regarding Trump have not impeded the leadership team’s ability to govern the conference.

“We have big differences about that,” Cheney conceded, speaking of Trump’s role in inciting the Capitol riots. “But we’re very united on other areas of substance and policy, and I think we know that’s what we’ve got to be focused on.”

Cheney and her colleagues are confident that their conference will retake the majority in 2022. “When you look at sort of the big picture issues overall, it’s a message of: We are the party, we are the officials, the people that you can count on, particularly in contrast to how far left the Democrats are moving and going right now,” Cheney said. Looking ahead to the midterms, she said her focus will be on the border crisis, President Joe Biden’s tax-and-spend agenda, and the Chinese Communist Party.

Cheney is not alone in her optimism. House Republican Conference Secretary Richard Hudson told reporters Monday that this conference “feels different,” because “we know that we’re going to be in the majority next Congress.” 

“We aren’t just getting in rooms and talking about the issues,” he added. “We’re actually planning what our agenda will be in our first 100 days.”

This week’s retreat is being hosted by the nonprofit Congressional Institute and consists of seven closed-door sessions, on topics ranging from the rising threat of China to “Big Tech censorship” to the future of American freedoms. Former White House press secretaries Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Ari Fleischer led a session Monday morning coaching House GOP members on how to interact with the press, and Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro was the conference’s keynote speaker Monday evening.

As Republicans try to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and set their sights on 2022, most representatives are focused on presenting a unified front. “I’ve been very pro-Trump,” House GOP Conference Vice Chairman Mike Johnson, the fourth-highest ranking House Republican, told The Dispatch. “I was on his impeachment defense team twice, so I felt very strongly about the issue. But it does not prevent me from working with other Republicans who might have had a different view on that.”

Other Republicans echoed those sentiments. “Right now, we are unified in opposition to the Biden agenda and policy agenda,” retiring Rep. Kevin Brady, ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, told The Dispatch. “And at this conference, we’re going to come together on policies, moving forward, that follow our commitment to America that was so successful last November.”

But despite the happy talk in front of the cameras, some members of the conference say behind closed doors that Trump’s chokehold over the conference is poisoning the GOP from within. “[Trump] talked a big game about unifying the party so we can win the majority back, and all he’s done is divide the party,” said one House GOP member who did not vote to impeach the former president, and who spoke to The Dispatch anonymously in fear of retribution from House leadership. “And what he’s doing by attacking Republicans who don’t think and act like him is going to ensure that we lose the majority. … The fight is not in here—should not be in here within our conference—it’s out there with people that want to reshape our nation into socialist countries. In order to get the majority back, we have to win blue districts, we have to win purple seats.”

Beyond the Trump divide, some Republicans are concerned House GOP leadership has done a poor job disciplining fringe members of the conference. These include Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, who recently spoke at a conference led by a white nationalist, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments by the Democratic majority for her past embrace of various conspiracy theories and comments made about Nancy Pelosi. There’s also Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is being investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly engaging in sexual relations with a 17-year-old girl and paying her to travel with him.

When Punchbowl News reported a few weeks back that some of those aforementioned characters were considering forming an “America First Caucus” within Congress that all but embraced white nationalism, McCarthy tweeted that “the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans—not nativist dog whistles.” 

Even though the minority leader did not mention any names, such public chastisement from McCarthy is rare, as top Republicans prefer to work out intra-conference squabbles behind closed doors. “In leadership, your number one job is to help protect your members and make sure that that objective is met,” Johnson told The Dispatch. “And so I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time as vice chair of the conference with members and among members encouraging dialogue among them to work out disagreements and things that may be lingering out there inside the tent, so to speak, inside the family, and not to air those things out in in public.”

An Update on Kanakuk Kamps

Regular readers of David’s French Press newsletter probably remember he and his wife Nancy have been reporting out a series of pieces looking into sexual abuse of minors that took place at Kanakuk Kamps, one of the largest Christian camps in the nation, and the many red flags missed or ignored that may have put more children in danger.

Nancy published the third installment on the site today detailing more information that has come to light. “Since the publication of our first article, I have learned more from sources who have come forward daily—even hourly—with additional details,” she writes.

Among those details:

  1. Convicted sexual abuser and former Kanakuk counselor Pete Newman confessed after a Texas Kanakuk father confronted Newman and threatened to call the FBI. 

  2. Kanakuk CEO Joe White discouraged the whistleblower from informing law enforcement of Newman’s crimes.

  3. Newman allegedly created pornographic materials of children.

  4. Experts say the FBI should launch an investigation into possible child trafficking.

The whole piece is worth your time, but a particularly haunting passage is excerpted below. Toby Neugebauer was such a believer in Kanakuk that he sent his own kids there and sponsored many others. One of those he helped send to a Kanakuk-related retreat in Alabama returned and made a disturbing report.

The boy claimed that during that retreat, Newman attempted “to shower and sleep naked in the hotel bed” with him, but the boy successfully resisted. The boy’s mother reached Neugebauer while Neugebauer was traveling on business in Europe and told him what her son had experienced.

“I’ll never forget that call,” Neugebauer said, saying he knew the 13-year-old child to be honest. “It was the worst 24 hours of my life. If you can’t trust Kanakuk, who the hell can you trust?”

Neugebauer returned to East Texas, where he spent a family weekend with his father, Randy, who was then serving in Congress. After consulting with his father, Neugebauer called Newman to confront him.

“Pete, my dad’s standing right here and I’m going to let you go tell [your wife] and to say goodbye to your child for the last time before you’ll be in custody. If you haven’t come clean and turned yourself in by the next morning, I assure you, the FBI is coming to pick you up.”

Newman pleaded for another chance. 

“Toby, I’ll never do it again,” Neugebauer told me Newman begged. “You’ll be my accountability partner. It was just one time.”

Newman’s “accountability” approach to wrongdoing had been used before. In 2003, Kanakuk had used this “accountability” strategy with Newman after the camp discovered he’d been swimming and four-wheeling nude with campers and had received parental complaints. White and Cooper were concerned enough to write a corrective action memorandum that outlined a series of limits on Newman’s activities, including requiring him to spend considerable time with one of his supervisors, Will Cunningham.

“It wasn’t one time. It’s never one time,” Neugebauer recalls telling Newman, insisting on the confession. Neugebauer told me he did not believe that strategy would deal with Newman’s predation effectively.

Newman confessed to his superiors at the camp, and Kanakuk later fired him.

Kanakuk fired him, but it’d be months before he was arrested. And Neugebauer says that when he told White to turn Newman into the authorities, White resisted, warning Neugebauer against doing “the devil’s bidding” by exposing the camp’s secrets.

Worth Your Time

  • A recent study conducted at the Naval Academy found that “instructors who tend to give out easier subjective grades ... dramatically hurt subsequent student performance.” Why, then, have more and more schools been moving toward grade inflation? High school strength and conditioning coach Shane Trotter asks this question in a piece for Quillette. “The point of assigning grades is to give feedback—to reflect reality. When grades are distorted, they stop delivering feedback that would help teachers to accurately assess what was learned, students to accurately determine how well they are learning and prompt greater effort, and the entire system to adapt to the needs of students,” he argues. “Rampant grade inflation has made grades less useful while, ironically, making them the entire point of school.”

  • Sen. Marco Rubio published an op-ed in the New York Post this week arguing that “America’s laws should keep our nation’s corporations firmly ordered to our national common good.” Scott Shackford responded in an essay for Reason. “The Republican response to allegedly ‘woke’ politics influencing corporate decision-making has the inadvertent consequence that politicians are actually saying out loud that a company’s treatment by government is dependent on how these companies treat politicians. Points for honesty, I guess,” he writes. “In the meantime, corporate leaders, athletes, and celebrities have the same First Amendment rights as every other American, and it’s flat-out grotesque for politicians to threaten punishments because of those disagreements.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Yesterday’s episode of Advisory Opinions was, fittingly, very Supreme Court-focused. Sarah and David chat about the new SCOTUS portrait before diving into a series of cases: One on the Second Amendment, one regarding Guantanamo Bay, and one on the First Amendment. Stick around for a breakdown of the Netflix documentary, Operation Varsity Blues.

  • If you were online over the weekend, you might have seen some hubbub over a climate plan from the White House to limit Americans to four pounds of red meat per year. This would be unconscionable if it were true; luckily it is not. “The basis for the red meat claim comes not from any plan released or endorsed by Biden, but from a study by Michigan University's Center for Sustainable Systems published January 13, 2020,” Alec writes in his latest Fact Check.

Let Us Know

Now that we’re vaccinated and events are starting to be held in person again, your Morning Dispatchers are ready to get back to reporting from the road. Today’s House GOP update, for example, came from Audrey down in Orlando, and Sarah and Steve are traveling this week to record an episode of the Dispatch Podcast with a very special guest.

Our question for you: What story topic should we pitch to our editors to get The Dispatch to pay for our travel to Hawaii, or Jamaica, or Bali? (Editor’s Note: The Dispatch reminds the Morning Dispatchers that falsifying travel expenses is a firing offense.)

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).