Sep 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House Freedom Caucus plots return to relevance

House Freedom Caucus
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House Freedom Caucus is so far refusing to back GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for speaker should its party win back the majority — testing what commitments it can leverage in exchange for its members' support.

Why it matters: The ultra-conservative group, which has a history of dislodging Republican leaders whom members didn’t see as properly representing the conservative movement, is plotting a return to relevance after years of seeing its influence fade.

  • If Republicans regain the House majority with tight rather than wide margins, it could give the caucus more power.
  • "If you’ve got 30 votes in a narrow majority, you can be influential," said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).

Driving the news: The group's chairman, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), and other members are pushing for the GOP conference to vote on a new House rules package before electing the new leadership.

What they're saying: Perry told Axios "it's a different game" when a party is in the majority, compared to when they’re in the minority and totally unified on opposing the other party.

  • "Everybody's in the Freedom Caucus right now on the Republican side," he said. "That'll change when you're in the majority. Somebody has to be the conscience of the conference and actually do the things we said we were going to do on the campaign trail."
  • As for aligning behind McCarthy, Perry said: "Talk to me on Nov. 9." For now, Freedom Caucus members have adopted an official stance of neutrality in leadership elections, Buck told Axios.
  • In a separate phone interview, Perry said the caucus has heard from "a lot of [candidates] that want to be in the Freedom Caucus, across the country in these open seats. … We think that’s a good sign."

Between the lines: There was a time when HFC members were the leaders of the right — not just in Congress, but across the conservative movement as a whole.

  • Their actions — which often served as a check on party leadership and the GOP establishment overall — largely dictated conservative messaging and activism.

But the group's star power has weakened in recent years for key three reasons:

1. The minority: House Republicans have been more unified — and less involved in policymaking decisions — in their last four years in the minority.

2. Donald Trump's rise: The caucus was once viewed as the beacon of the right, but was overtaken in 2016 by a larger-than-life figure who preached many of the same ideals and principles.

3. Leadership shakeup: Former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — original co-founders of the Freedom Caucus — were once the frontmen.

  • But Meadows left Congress in late 2020 to become Trump's chief of staff, while Jordan has since landed a spot within House Republican leadership.
  • Jordan has already endorsed McCarthy for speaker, telling Axios that McCarthy has done a "great" job and been more unifying than some previous leaders — though he acknowledged "it's easier to do when you're when you're in the minority."
  • After Trump took office, Jordan said HFC shifted its focus from passing legislation to fiercely defending Trump.

What to watch: Some members want to adopt more scorched-earth tactics toward President Biden.

  • Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told Axios he wants to "force this president to sign bills that would rescind some of the harm" of Democratic policies and "shut it down if necessary. Gridlock is a good thing compared to the alternative."
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