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House Freedom Caucus has moved from the fringe to center stage

House Freedom Caucus members were pariahs. But as the lines between the Republican fringe and the Republican mainstream blur, now they’re ascendant.


For about four decades, far-right members of Congress joined a special group, intended to be separate from the GOP mainstream. It was called the Republican Study Committee, and it was home to the House’s most hard-line ideologues.

But as regular readers know, a problem soon emerged: The more radicalized House GOP members became, the more the Republican Study Committee included nearly everyone from the party’s conference. The Study Committee became fine for run-of-the-mill far-right members, but some really conservative members wanted an even more exclusive, invitation-only caucus that would exclude those who weren’t quite far enough to the right.

The House Freedom Caucus was born.

As we’ve discussed, for much of its existence, the Freedom Caucus was an annoyance to Republican leaders, who bristled as the group’s members rejected their own party’s bills they deemed insufficiently radical. For prominent figures like former House Speaker John Boehner, lawmakers in the Freedom Caucus deserved to be seen as pariahs.

But they’re not. Axios took a look yesterday at the party’s latest committee assignments.

Members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus are seeing the first dividends from the deal they struck to give House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) his gavel: prime committee assignments. ... The plum postings for Republican rebels fulfill a key concession McCarthy made, handing conservatives greater influence over the GOP conference’s congressional probes and legislative agenda.

A Washington Post reporter noted that the Freedom Caucus represents less than 25% of the House Republican conference, but Freedom Caucus members will now hold 38% of the GOP seats on the influential House Oversight Committee.

What’s more, for the far-right contingent, more good news appears to be on the way: NBC News noted yesterday that McCarthy also appears to have committed to giving Freedom Caucus members three seats on the speaker-controlled Rules Committee, which has great influence over bills before they reach the floor.

But it’s not just committee assignments worth examining, it’s also committee chairs. My review of the panel lineups found that two Freedom Caucus members — Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Green of Tennessee — will wield powerful gavels, leading the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, respectively.

At the same time, 15 other Freedom Caucus members — Andy Biggs, Andy Harris, Barry Moore, Clay Higgins, David Schweikert, Ken Buck, Matt Rosendale, Michael Cloud, Mike Johnson, Morgan Griffith, Ralph Norman, Randy Weber, Russ Fulcher, Troy Nehls, and Warren Davidson — will chair House subcommittees.

And if we widen the aperture a bit, the faction has scored other successes outside the chamber. South Carolina’s Mick Mulvaney was a Freedom Caucus member, before Donald Trump put him in charge of overseeing the Office of Management and Budget, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and, ultimately, the White House.

Florida’s Ron DeSantis was a Freedom Caucus member, before being elected governor. Oklahoma’s Jim Bridenstine was also a Freedom Caucus member, before being tapped to lead NASA.

On the surface, it stands to reason that far-right members will have influence over a far-right party, but circling back to our earlier coverage, it’s striking just how frequently we’re confronted with these circumstances. Headlines about “____ has moved from the Republican fringe to the Republican mainstream,” have become a staple for a reason.

Jeff Sessions was considered “a fringe figure” in GOP politics, but Trump made him the attorney general. During his congressional career, Mike Pence earned a reputation as something of a lawmaker on the radical periphery, with a voting record well to the right of House members such as Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert, but Trump chose him as his vice presidential running mate.

Some figures from Breitbart News “labored on the fringes” right up until they secured jobs in the Trump White House. Stephen Miller “spent years on the political fringe” before he started shaping the sitting former president’s agenda. Trump himself was seen as a fringe political figure, best known for championing a racist conspiracy theory, right up until he was elected president.

And as we’re seeing this week, the House Freedom Caucus has also made its transition from the fringe to center stage.