STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Republican lawmakers were on their way to a retreat yesterday when the train that carried them crashed. The Amtrak train struck a garbage truck. No lawmakers were hurt, but one person was killed. And that was the prelude to a meeting at the luxury resort in West Virginia called The Greenbrier, a meeting that was meant to focus on the year ahead. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is near the site of that meeting. She's on the line. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: How did lawmakers respond at the moment of this train crash?
DAVIS: What is fortunate for a lot of people on the train is that there's actually a lot of doctors in Congress. So the doctors onboard and some of the non-doctors got off the train as fast as they could and tried to help with immediate medical intervention for the people that were affected in the train crash. As you said, there was one fatality. Two additional people were hospitalized. No members of Congress suffered any major injuries, although there was a number of concussions.
And there was a bit of a surreal moment in this crash because two of the lawmakers who jumped off the train were Ohio Republican Brad Wenstrup and Arizona Senate Republican Jeff Flake, two of the same lawmakers that were also at the congressional shooting last summer and were there to also apply medical care to Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
INSKEEP: Unbelievable time in Congress. And this latest incident comes at a moment when President Trump has just given his State of the Union speech. The question is, what can lawmakers try to accomplish for the year ahead? And Trump had some stuff for him. He wants an infrastructure plan. He wants paid family leave. He wants to cut the cost of prescription drugs, he says. What do Republicans in Congress think about those ideas?
DAVIS: He is probably not going to find a lot of conservative champions for causes like paid family leave or lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Anything that expands the size of the federal government or requires more government regulation doesn't really have a lot of friends in the House particularly. There's a lot of support for this idea of an infrastructure bill even across the aisle. There's just still really no idea yet of how they need to pay for it, which is the really big question.
I will say, not just because of that train accident that was sort of a rallying mood for Republicans, a somber mood, but they're coming here really unified. I mean, the mood of the party is really positive around the president. The State of the Union was a rallying moment. They're just not really quite sure yet what to do with this unity.
INSKEEP: Do they agree - are they unified on immigration?
DAVIS: That is still a tough question. You know, the immigration debate in Congress is really the logjam on 2018. Lawmakers I talked to say it's really hard to plan for the year until they figure out how they get out of this immigration debate. Part of the challenge that the president still has is making sure enough Republicans are going to get onboard behind his plan.
Especially in the House, there are a lot of immigration hardliners who just don't want to support anything that involves a path to citizenship for any number of people. So - and then the trick here is the president really needs Democrats to vote for this bill in the end. This has to be bipartisan. It's the only way it gets done. I think right now, the mood in both parties is that they're not any closer to an immigration deal.
INSKEEP: Do you get any sense of anxiety among Republicans as more and more lawmakers announced their retirements ahead of what looks like it could be a very tough election?
DAVIS: Yes. And Vice President Mike Pence came here last night. He was a keynote dinner speaker. And he gave - outlined what I think the Republican argument is going to be into 2018. He says they have a very good story to tell. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the same. They're calling 2017 the best year for the conservative cause in 30 years, pointing to things like the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, the tax cut bill they passed.
So they want to make 2018 about 2017. I don't know how hard that's going to be for them to do. But Pence also pledged to Republicans here that he and the president are going to hit the campaign trail hard for all of these down-ballot Republicans who are facing midterm election year headwinds. And he made the point that Donald Trump - the party under Donald Trump defies conventional wisdom when it comes to who wins elections. And he predicted that they would hold both their majorities in the House and in the Senate.
INSKEEP: Reminder of 2016, when Mitch McConnell told us the party was at an all-time high and people guffawed, but it turned out to be a pretty successful year for them.
DAVIS: There you go.
INSKEEP: Sue, thanks very much.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.