MONONGAHELA, Pennsylvania — Whether by design or necessity, the decision by House Republican leaders to kick off their Commitment to America in this river town on the edge of Allegheny County was quite apt.
There is no easy way to get here from Pittsburgh, or from the airport, or from our nation's capital. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana laughed, saying the very point of the Commitment to America is to reach the people and places Congress neglects to the point that it needs a GPS to find them and a dictionary to spell them.
The Republicans' goal, he said, is to show up and hear the concerns of people in places just like this one and to commit as a party to finding solutions.
Scalise told The Washington Examiner that Republicans wanted to go into the middle of America, to a community that really does have to live with the consequences of President Joe Biden's policies, as well as the legislation moved through Congress by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They wanted to do more than just act as critics of the Democrats, he said — they wanted to put forward their own solutions.
"You could hear it from the families that asked questions today, they're struggling under the weight of Biden's inflation," he said. "Families are having a hard time putting food on the table." He pointed also to the local sheriff, who asked lawmakers what they would do about the escalating crime and fentanyl overdoses, in addition to families asking about their solution to soaring energy prices.
During a tour of Ductmate Industries, Scalise and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy received a few lessons in welding and high-technology manufacturing. After that, the House Republicans held a town hall event, rolling out their agenda for the country.
Twenty-eight House members were in attendance as the Republican House leadership rolled out their plan to control inflation, secure the southern border and fight the escalating crime surge in this country.
McCarthy said the plan includes curbing out-of-control spending, moving supply chains away from China and increasing domestic energy production.
DMI CEO Ray Yeager, who lives in nearby Washington County, said the western Pennsylvania family-owned company has been in the Mon Valley for nearly 50 years. "We have factories across the U.S., but our headquarters are in Charleroi," he said of the facility down the road in Washington County.
Yeager said it made sense for the Republicans to come here, despite the curving back roads and deep hollows you have to navigate no matter what direction you are coming from.
"There is a very deep sense of place here, and the people who work here and live here embody all that is good about the country in terms of work ethic and giving back to the community," he said. "I will add, it is the people who live in towns like the Monongahela all across who are getting hurt the most by the effects of inflation, rising energy costs and the fentanyl crisis."
DMI makes accessories primarily for commercial duct systems for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry. There were over 400 people working in the facility last Friday.
Many of them told me they have been here more than 10 years — several said over two decades. Almost all said they live within 20 minutes of their jobs or just down the street. Most of the workers said they learned their skills for the job at a trade school, in shop class or as an apprentice.
Scalise said DMI is emblematic of so many other small businesses in America: "They have to live with the consequences of Pelosi's far-left agenda," he said.
"So, when they push the Green New Deal, it crushes manufacturers in America who actually have the best environmental standards in the world, and it emboldens countries like China. Because when Pelosi shuts down manufacturing in America, those jobs don't just go away — they go to countries like China and India."
Scalise said the Left is really good at beating up America for doing the work and releasing the emissions, but they don't acknowledge that Americans do it better and with less environmental damage than anyone else in the world.
"Frankly, we should be making more things in America," he said. "We should be making more energy in America, not less. It shows they live in this parallel universe that is detached from reality of the small businesses and hard work and families who make America great."
Monongahela sits in the center of Appalachia. It is the second-smallest city in Pennsylvania — a critical meeting place during the Whiskey Rebellion and the birthplace of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. It is also the place where NFL great Joe Montana learned to toss a football with his father.
In the decades of the decline of coal and manufacturing, the city has lost half of its population; the median income hovers at $30,000, with nearly 14% of the population living below the poverty line.
Scalise says inflation hits people hardest in cities and towns like this one. That's why it is one of the top priorities for House Republicans to address if they take control of the House in November.
"It's incredibly important for us to listen to families that we represent, who are struggling, and then go bring those concerns back to Washington and pass bills that fix their problems," he said.
The immediate reaction from the House Democrats was swift, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and every other Democrat immediately calling it an "extreme MAGA agenda."
"It shows how out of touch she is with average Americans," said Scalise, "because those are the big complaints I hear when I go to communities all across the country. So, I'm not sure what group of people she's hanging out with, but if she thinks it's extremist to lower inflation and to lower energy prices and to have parents being more involved in their kids' education, then maybe she's so out of touch that it's time for her to be fired as speaker of the House. I think the country's going to have a big say in November."
In the most recent ABC News poll, Republicans are favored by voters heading into the midterm elections on handling inflation, the economy overall and crime; 76% of those surveyed say inflation is a major issue, 84% say the economy and 69% say crime.
Scalise said that, as Republicans, they just can't release a document and not stand by it if they win; in fact, he says he expects voters to hold their feet to the fire on all of these issues.
"Every one of the items in the Commitment to America represents issues that will be brought before committees and Congress in open view on CSPAN; bills that will ultimately come to the House floor to carry out the items and the commitment," he explained.
"We will pass those bills through the House, and that's where getting the public more engaged is really important. Because they go nowhere after that if everybody just walks away. We need people to then call their senators and demand that their senators pass the bills that we will get out of the House to lower inflation, and to lower gas prices, and to secure the border."
This commitment only works if the public stays engaged and holds everybody accountable, said Scalise. "Including Joe Biden, who will have a choice of whether he would sign or veto these bills," he added.
As for getting any Democrats to sign on, the eternal optimist says he's ready to help make that happen.
"I welcome everybody who believes in the great principles of America to vote for these bills and to express support for the Commitment to America," he said.
"This is going to be a referendum during the election, but also after the election, on the view that people have for America. Do you want an America that goes into decline? Where inflation is just a new norm and a border doesn't exist? Or do you want to get back to the principles that made this country the greatest nation in the history of the world? It's in jeopardy right now. We can restore it."
Salena Zito has held a long, successful career as a national political reporter. Born and bred in Pittsburgh, she worked for the Pittsburgh Tribute-Review for 11 years. She has interviewed every U.S. president and vice president since 1992, as well as top leaders in Washington, D.C., including secretaries of state, speakers of the House and U.S. Central Command generals. Salena joined the New York Post in September 2016. She acts as a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. Read Salena Zito's Reports — More Here.