House Freedom Caucus Considers Split from Republican Study Committee

House_Freedom_Caucus J. Scott ApplewhiteAP
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Another example of unrest between the Republican leadership and its members came from The Daily Signal on Monday, as it reported the forty members of the House Freedom Caucus may separate from the Republican Study Committee when the next Congress convenes.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), one of the Freedom Caucus founders, said he personally did not plan to join the Republican Study Committee again, and expected at least “some HFC members” to make the same decision.

The Hill has been hearing rumors that up to half of the Freedom Caucus members could defect from the Republican Study Committee. RSC Executive Director Scott Parkinson sought to “downplay” those rumors, without denying them outright. His confidence in having a “very, very large membership” in the next Congress was, in part, based on the requirement that only representatives who renew their RSC membership before the November 17 leadership election are allowed to vote.

As The Hill recalls, a previous Republican Study Committee leadership vote was one of the factors leading to the creation of the House Freedom Caucus:

The Freedom Caucus was formed in January of last year by nine lawmakers who felt the RSC had become too aligned with GOP leadership. At the time, one of the founding members of the caucus, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), had just lost the race for RSC chairman to Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas).

Months before, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) had accused GOP leaders of twisting arms to help Flores win the contest, something Flores and the leadership team denied.

Before Flores, the RSC was led by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is now the House majority whip.

A similar scenario is taking shape in the next RSC leadership election, with Freedom Caucus member Andy Harris (R-MD) running against Mark Walker (R-NC). Their candidacies are not yet confirmed, although Walker’s office told The Hill he was “excited about the encouragement he is receiving as he considers running.”

“Any breakup with the Republican Study Committee could amount to a significant shake-up in Congress. Though two distinct groups, the organizations share many of the same members, often tag-team major policy fights, and make up the majority of House Republicans together,” observed the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, speculating that if Rep. Harris wins the chairmanship, it would make the HFC members less likely to defect.

Also aligned with the HFC is the Club for Growth SuperPAC, which has “spent more than $3.7 million to boost a half-dozen Republican primary candidates who’ve pledged publicly or privately to join the Freedom Caucus, plus several of their current members in tough races,” according to Politico.

In fact, all of the House contenders backed by the Club for Growth this year are “members of, or endorsed by, the Freedom Caucus,” leading Politico to cite “critics” who speak of “something approaching an unholy coordination between a group of lawmakers and a big-spending conservative organization.”

The most prominent of those critics named in the Politico article is the retiring Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who said that instead of rigorously interviewing potential endorsees to determine agreement on their core issues, the Club for Growth now behaves as if “all a candidate has to do is be endorsed by the House Freedom Caucus’ Jim Jordan.”

Politico notes that the HFC lost a half-dozen members this year, including Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who was defeated by “Establishment-aligned forces” in his primary. However, the GOP Establishment is on track to suffer even more significant losses in the 2016 election, making it likely the HFC’s influence will grow.

The Club for Growth denied any improper direct coordination with the House Freedom Caucus. “It’s not so much that we’re tied at the hip with the Freedom Caucus, but we love what they’re doing, and we’re looking for members so that we can get a majority of economic conservatives within the majority of Republicans so they can have a more influential role,” said Club spokesman Doug Sachtleben, agreeing that it was in his organization’s interest to see the House Freedom Caucus grow larger, to the consternation of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the rest of the GOP leadership.


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