- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — After a somber start to congressional Republicans’ annual policy retreat, Vice President Mike Pence tried to rally the troops Wednesday evening, telling the GOP it had helped oversee the best year for conservatives in decades and that they need to tell that story ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Mr. Pence touted Republicans’ passing the recent $1.5 trillion tax-cut bill, rolling back regulations, and confirming judges as among the many accomplishments for a GOP-controlled Washington, D.C. last year.

He called 2017 “the most accomplished year for the conservative agenda in 30 years.”

“President Trump and I are going to be with you every step of the way in 2018 to tell that story to the American people,” he said.

He said conventional wisdom might dictate that Republicans are poised to have a difficult election cycle — but said similar wisdom also forecast a Hillary Clinton victory over Mr. Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

“The truth of the matter is we made history in 2016 and we’re going to make history again in 2018 when we re-elect Republican majorities in the House and Senate,” he said.

But the GOP’s three-day retreat at the tony Greenbrier resort in West Virginia — essentially a working vacation from Washington, D.C. — had already been marred by the news earlier Wednesday that a train carrying many members to the event hit a truck en route outside of Charlottesville, Va.

One person in the truck died and several others sustained injuries, including Rep. Jason Lewis of Minnesota, who was taken to a local hospital as part of a concussion protocol and later discharged.

Mr. Pence said he was in the Oval Office with Mr. Trump when they learned of the news, and that they were “deeply troubled” at the initial reports but eventually relieved that the scope of the accident was not larger.

“Just know that our hearts were with you this afternoon, as I know were the hearts of millions of Americans,” he said. “And just know that our prayers go out to the families of the lost and the injured for comfort and for healing.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican, said he gave serious thought after the crash to immediately returning home, but he said it was encouraging to hear from Mr. Pence and Mr. Trump that they still planned to attend the event.

“This is part of our job. Coming to a retreat is not something novel, or new, or different,” Mr. Burgess said. “It is part of our planning process — part of how we approach the entire year, so it is important work that’s going to be done.”

Rep. Larry Bucshon, a surgeon who along with Mr. Burgess was one of several doctor-lawmakers who tried to assist the wounded, acknowledged that the mood of the conference is likely to be “solemn” in light of the accident.

“I think people, really, on the train were pretty upset. The word got through the train pretty quickly that someone had been killed at the scene and it was bad,” the Indiana Republican told The Washington Times.

“I think people were really solemn, prayerful, and really thinking about the injured people and their families,” he said.

Republicans had been scheduled to go over a range of topics over the course of the event, including the tax law, infrastructure, workforce development, and the 2018 midterm landscape.

Besides Mr. Trump, who was slated to speak at lunchtime Thursday, the expected speakers include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, and Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

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