GOP leadership finally wins a round vs. Freedom Caucus
For years, the conservative House Freedom Caucus has bent GOP leaders to their will, making costly demands for their votes, or, lately, going around leadership to the White House to get what they want.
But on Thursday, senior Republicans were privately rejoicing after the group of rabble-rousing conservatives got “rolled,” as one top GOP lawmaker put it, in negotiations over a short-term government funding plan.
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Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and his No. 2, Jim Jordan, had spent the past two days making policy demands to win their support for the four-week spending measure they despised. The group floated a series of ideas to boost defense spending, asked for a vote on a conservative immigration bill and sought a commitment to declassify a House Intelligence Committee report.
“[Speaker Ryan] put forth a few things for our caucus to consider that would actually be beneficial to the military and our focus on the military needs going forward,” Meadows told a swarm of reporters just minutes after striking his deal with leadership Thursday night. “We need to make sure that the military men and women get the resources they need.”
But in the end, after hours of back and forth, the Freedom Caucus got very little, leadership sources said — even after getting President Donald Trump involved. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) promised the group a vote on a defense bill he’d already committed to allowing days before. And while leaders vowed to do more to help advance the immigration bill backed by conservatives, Ryan had already announced intentions to do that in a lunch with rank-and-file Republicans earlier in the week.
“They’ve been grasping for anything just so they can declare victory and vote aye,” said one senior Republican source.
Another senior Republican lawmaker familiar with the negotiations added: “They got nothing, but created a whole lot of hullabaloo… Some of us are just worried that it’s more about the attention and not about the cause.”
Meadows, in a brief interview after the House’s successful vote to pass the stopgap spending bill, rejected the notion that the Freedom Caucus got sidelined but did not wish to comment. Earlier in the day, he suggested to a group of reporters that the group got more than they were allowed to discuss, but wouldn’t say exactly what.
“I don’t get squeezed. I squeeze others,” Meadows said at one point Thursday.
Meadows’ group, with its three-dozen members, has long had the power to foil leadership’s plans. And to be sure, the group still could at any moment. But it was never clear that the Freedom Caucus wanted to use that leverage to go against Trump, who supported passage of the spending plan. Senior Republicans thought they simply wanted some sort of symbolic win to say they got something for their votes.
But that determination to hold out for something on such a critical roll call infuriated GOP leaders. They were aghast that conservatives were making demands at all in the midst of a major showdown with Democrats that could end in a government closure. The Senate may not have the votes to pass the House’s spending provision, meaning GOP leaders may soon have to lean on their conference — including the Freedom Caucus — again to pass a spending bill.
The exchanges could deepen tensions between leaders and conservatives, though the Republican lawmaker familiar with the talks with Freedom Caucus members said he hoped it would unify their conference.
“When you’re asked the question about how this is the first time in modern political history that Republicans shut down their own government? That’s a tough question to answer! … So I hope that they’ll join [us] and put the pressure on those guys over there,” the member said, referring to Senate Democrats.
The haggling between GOP leaders and conservatives began earlier this week, when Meadows and Jordan asked to include in the continuing resolution, or CR, a yearlong pay raise for troops. GOP leaders rejected that argument, saying that the pay boost had already gone into effect earlier last year.