By Alex Bregman
So who are they? They call themselves the Freedom Caucus.
When congressional Republicans gathered at a retreat in Hershey, Pa., two years ago, nine House members met secretly to hatch a plan to buck the establishment and push their more-conservative agenda. The result: the Freedom Caucus.
Its official mission statement reads, in part, that it will “support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans.” That means things like repealing Obamacare, sharply reducing social programs, decreasing military spending, defunding Planned Parenthood, securing the borders and balancing the budget.
Today the group has grown to about three dozen members of Congress — and it’s a who’s-who of the most conservative ones. Many of them were elected in the tea party revolt of 2010.
The group is invitation-only, meetings are never public, and you’ll never know who’s in the caucus because there’s no official list of who belongs.
What have they done?
The caucus’s first show of strength came when members decided that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wasn’t singing their tune and forced him out. In 2015, Boehner resigned, facing a leadership fight with the caucus.
Then Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., entered the picture, agreeing to run as speaker, but only after giving this message to the Freedom Caucus: “We need to move from an opposition party to being a proposition party.”
Ryan, however, apparently wasn’t conservative enough for the caucus, either — at least when it came to the GOP’s proposed health care bill to overturn Obamacare. Even though the White House made concessions on the legislation, they weren’t enough for the Freedom Caucus, and without its support, the measure was pulled.
Ryan delivered a very similar message to his party and the caucus: “Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains, and, well, we’re feeling those growing pains today.”
Easier said than done. And now there are some reports that Ryan’s head may be on the chopping block. But caucus chair Mark Meadows says he’s their guy, at least for now. “There is no conversation going on right now with regards to replacing the speaker,” he said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, some more-moderate Republicans are clashing with the Freedom Caucus. They’re known as the Tuesday Group, an organization formed in 1994 as an alternative to the uber-conservatism they believed was taking over the party. So, the age-old question is: Who will lead the GOP?
When it comes to the firebrand conservatives — aka the Freedom Caucus — who are hoping their vision of America will win the day, at least you can say, “Now I get it.”