NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Conservative Political Action Conference kicked into high gear Thursday with two prominent GOP House Oversight Committee members warning of the rise of socialism in the “radical” Democratic Party while saying they believe congressional Democrats are laying the foundation for Trump impeachment efforts.
CPAC began its day with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a day after ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony before the committee. Discussing the Cohen hearing, where Democrats pressed the former Trump adviser for dirt on the president, Jordan said: “This is step one in the Democrats’ crazy efforts to impeach the president of the United States.”
“And the best they could come up with is this guy who is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress,” Jordan said of Cohen. “That’s their star witness. That’s their first big hearing.”
Meadows told the crowd he believes Democrats are “trying to lay the foundation” for impeachment by calling Cohen to testify.
“It’s not just impeachment,” the North Carolina Republican said. “It’s taking away everything that is foundational of who we are.”
He joked about New York Democratic Rep. Ocasio Cortez’s recent vow to pay her staffers a living wage by reducing the salary of senior staffers in her office.
“She’s really serious about it,” Meadows said. “Maybe she needs to put her money in there.”
The gathering comes amid the rise of democratic socialists like Ocasio-Cortez, and 2020 Democratic presidential candidates embracing progressive causes like “Medicare-for-all.”
“They are embracing socialism,” Meadows said.
He added, “We’ve got to get to a point where we celebrate capitalism and understand that in America, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, that the American dream is available for everybody.”
The embrace of big-government policies by Democratic candidates already has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential race, and something the Trump re-election campaign has been eager to highlight.
Jordan knocked Democrats for embracing policies like the “Green New Deal,” abolishing ICE and higher taxes for the wealthy. “This is how radical they are,” he said.
“When it gets down to President Trump against whoever the left nominates, President Trump is going to clean their clock in my judgment. He’s going to win. Understand just how radical they are,” Jordan added.
Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka echoed the comments in his own CPAC speech.
“What is America’s biggest problem? Not socialism in Russia, but in America!” he said, while likening the Green New Deal to a watermelon: “Green on the outside, deep, deep red on the inside.”
Meadows and Jordan also took aim at congressional probes into whether Trump’s campaign in 2016 coordinated with the Russians.
Speaking of Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Meadows said, “Here’s the interesting thing. He continues to go on over and over and over again that he’s got all this collusion evidence. What I say is: bring it on. Because we know that he doesn’t have anything.”
The annual conference of hardcore conservatives began Wednesday at National Harbor, where the theme is “What Makes America Great” – a not-so-subtle play on Trump’s campaign slogan.
Matt Schlapp, the chairman of CPAC sponsor the American Conservative Union, told Fox News that the conference plans to strike a sharp contrast with socialism by focusing on freedom and America's founding principles.
“The Democrats are flirting with this idea that the principles that founded this country are actually rotten and need to be cast aside,” Schlapp said in a recent interview with Fox News.
Thousands of attendees – typically including many college-aged conservatives – gather every year for the summit. President Trump is expected to address attendees on Saturday.
The White House is sending Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council and former television host, for an appearance Thursday. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will also be coming from the Trump administration. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is addressing attendees.
Lawmakers expected include South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Georgia Sen. David Perdue and Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn.
As is tradition, the gathering will include a straw poll, which will ask people to assess the president’s performance. It will also poll the 2020 Republican primary, including possible GOP challengers to Trump. It will ask attendees who they think Democrats will nominate in the presidential race. And a new question this year asks attendees to rate the honesty of several specific media figures, organizers said.
Benno Kass contributed to this report.