They Came. They Squawked. They Squandered Their Leverage.

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In November, a characteristically impassioned Texas Rep. Chip Roy unloaded in a House floor speech about how lousy a job House Republicans were doing.

“One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thingone!—that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!” he shouted, inviting anybody hanging around listening to “come explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides ‘Well, I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.’ ”

Roy is policy chair of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of a few dozen far-right Republicans whose rigid demands and relentless threats to oust GOP leadership have mired the House of Representatives in dysfunction. Its members include Lauren Boebert, Jim Jordan, and Chairman Bob Good; Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are kindred ideological spirits. (Greene was a part of its ranks until she was booted last year, for being too mean to other caucus members.)

Five months after his epic rant, Roy and his chums have the same amount to celebrate—basically nothing—and a lot more to complain about. The House finally passed into law government-funding bills for the rest of the fiscal year at levels far too high for the hard-liners’ taste. It also finally pushed through security assistance for Ukraine without any border security reforms or changes attached, and without any corresponding spending cuts.

The hard right had been able, at least, to secure the impeachment of a cabinet secretary—but then had to watch Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer crumple up the articles and toss them into the wastebasket in half an afternoon’s work.

Let’s be honest. House Republicans (and especially Freedom Caucus Republicans) were never going to get much out of this Congress. The greatest accomplishment of their incredibly slim House majority was always going to be that they blocked the Democratic agenda for two years. Beyond that, not much Republican agenda enactment was going to be achieved between their own slim voting margins, a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic White House. The Freedom Caucus either doesn’t get this or pretends not to.

But the hard-liners have not merely been idle bystanders, whining aimlessly as they get outvoted. They have made policy outcomes actively worse for Republicans. Their insistence on maximalist wins—rather than incremental gains proportional to their junior-partner stake in running the country—lessened conservative achievements by throwing Republican leaders into the arms of Democrats in order to pass necessary items.

They have to know this. This is not a dynamic that’s difficult to understand or that they haven’t been lectured about a thousand times. Freedom Caucus members weren’t born yesterday. They just prioritize the politics of crying betrayal over any small policy successes.

House Republicans had two central leverage points in this Congress: the debt ceiling and aid for Ukraine. On both occasions, Republicans could have influenced the outcomes to their advantage. On both occasions, anger from the far right about how the wins didn’t go far enough undercut any GOP negotiating power.

Though it may seem like ancient history now, it was only one year ago that then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy was in the middle of executing a successful debt-ceiling strategy. He kept House Republicans united on the need for the Biden administration to negotiate with them in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, forcing the White House to enter talks. In the end, McCarthy’s negotiators secured a reasonable budget deal to trim domestic spending while giving a small boost to defense spending. It was a modest reversal of the previous year’s budget agreement from when Democrats were in charge, and an acknowledgment of the 2022 “Red Ripple” midterms, during which Republicans flipped nine House seats on net. Given that the spending agreement was reached relatively early last year too, it would have given conservatives an opportunity to achieve another stated goal: consideration of the 12 government spending bills one by one, rather than having a single omnibus spending bill jammed down their throats at the end of the year.

The Freedom Caucus revolted, blocking McCarthy’s agenda until he agreed to cut spending further beyond the deal he’d just agreed to. The whole process, then, went completely off-track after McCarthy was ousted as speaker and the newly installed speaker, Mike Johnson, had to learn the ropes. When all was said and done, “full-year government funding” wasn’t achieved until nearly halfway through the fiscal year, late last month. All the far-right griping achieved, in other words, was the delayed implementation of domestic spending cuts.

Nevertheless, the Freedom Caucus claimed betrayal.

Similarly, on Ukraine funding, Republicans had a real opportunity to achieve meaningful reforms to border policy. Republican leaders in both the House and Senate insisted that Democrats engage in border talks in exchange for Ukraine funding. Democrats agreed.

After months of discussions, a group of three senators—one Republican, one independent, and one Democrat—reached a border deal that would have required the administration to, among other things, restrict asylum claims when southern border encounters surged. It was the first time in modern memory that Democrats had agreed to a major immigration deal that was almost entirely enforcement-based, without insisting in return on immigrants’ being guaranteed a path to legal status or citizenship.

The far right, largely at the beckoning of Donald Trump, killed the deal before it was even released. They didn’t try to tinker with it or ask for amendments to fix things here or there. It was rejected out of hand.

So, what Republicans got out of their Ukraine leverage was zero. Zip. There was nothing in the package of foreign policy bills that the House passed last weekend that addressed the border. The Freedom Caucus likes to believe that Republicans had enough leverage on Ukraine that they would ultimately get Democrats to swallow conservatives’ very strict border bill, H.R. 2—a demand that calls into question how many of them have ever spoken to a Democrat. Ukraine aid passed with over 300 votes.

Once again, the Freedom Caucus claimed betrayal.

Betrayal, then, is the “one thing”—repeated multiple times over—that Roy and other members of the hard right can campaign on (aside from being “not as bad as the Democrats,” which is more-than-adequate reelection material in nearly all of these members’ districts). They fought and fought, they’ll say, only to be betrayed by the Republican leader of any given moment, who—no matter how conservative their bona fides—always reveals themself to be a secret Democrat.

The House functions now only because an uneasy coalition of Democrats and practical Republicans wills it to do so. The rest, as a byproduct of that, rack up and sell complaints.