CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Republicans are trying to hit the reset button.
On Thursday, the start of their three-day retreat in Maryland, GOP leadership stressed that they were going to work this coming year to be the "alternative party" and work to shake the image that they're only interested in blocking the president's policies and saying "no."
"It's important we show the American people we're not just the opposition party, we're actually the alternative party," House Speaker John Boehner said. "Republicans have to do more to talk about the better solutions that we think we have that will help the American people grow their wages, have opportunities at a better job, and clearly have a better shot at the American dream."
Republicans are working to appear more open to compromise and avoid the kind of crises that have hurt them over the last few years.
"We believe, and I think the discussion at this retreat is going to be not just about opposing the policies this president has been about over the last several years … but it is to craft an alternative for the people of this country so that we can see an America that works for everybody," Majority Leader Eric Cantor said.
At the retreat, Republicans will huddle to come up with plans to deal with health care, the debt ceiling, and most notably, immigration. Leadership plans to unveil a set of immigration principles to members later on Thursday to a largely skeptical conference that remains deeply divided on the issue.
Asked why he felt it was important for the House to take up immigration now, Boehner was adamant that he and his team had been committed to dealing with the problem since shortly after the last election. Boehner and his team were sparse on the details on any proposal, only saying that they'd talk to members later in the afternoon but stressed that Republicans would likely focus on border security first.
"This problem's been around for at least the last 15 years, it's been turned into a political football. I think it's unfair," Boehner said.
"You can't begin the process of immigration reform without securing our borders and the ability to enforce our laws. Everyone in our conference understands that's the first step in terms of meaningful reform of this problem," he added.
In another effort to shake the reputation of the "do-nothing" House, Republicans sent a letter to the president on Thursday morning highlighting four areas from the State of the Union where they saw the possibility for bipartisan cooperation.
Boehner, Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy also expressed support for a fast-track trade agreement, known as the Trade Promotion Authority, supported by the president but largely opposed by Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threw a large amount of cold water on the TPA proposal on Wednesday, saying, "Everyone would be well advised not to push this right now."
"The president at the State of the Union said he had a phone and a pen. I think the first call actually has to be to Harry Reid to talk about trade," said McCarthy. "He might want to have to get his own party in line."