GOP lawmakers who find the far-right Republican Study Committee too squishy now have a new clique to call home: the House Freedom Caucus. "The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We 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," the group declared in its first official communiqué.
Following up on a report from a couple of weeks ago, House Republicans continue to find new ways to splinter from their like-minded allies. For about four decades, far-right members of Congress have enjoyed a special group separate from the Republican mainstream -- the Republican Study Committee -- home to the House's most rigid ideologues and reactionary voices.
But the more radicalized House Republicans become, the easier it is for some GOP lawmakers to see their colleagues as not quite conservative enough. Sure, the Republican Study Committee is fine for most run-of-the-mill far-right members, but what about the right-wing elite who aren't sure about Republicans' commitment to the cause?
As of yesterday, they officially have their own little team.
And just how big is the newly named House Freedom Caucus? As of yesterday, it has just nine members.
In fact, the group is small enough to list the full membership: Republican Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), John Fleming (La.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) and Matt Salmon (Ariz.). Collectively, they issued a two-sentence statement of purpose that could probably have been endorsed by any nine members of Congress in either party or in either chamber.
The funny part, however, continues to be the process through which members can join the House Freedom Caucus.
Remember, on Capitol Hill, there's strength in numbers -- caucuses and membership groups generally want as many members as possible because the larger the membership list, the greater the clout. When party leaders are pushing an idea, and you disagree, you want to be able to say, "I'm part of a caucus with dozens of members with a very different perspective."
And yet, not everyone is free to join the Freedom Caucus -- it's "invitation only." Some conservative Republicans may want to hang out with these guys, but the group's nine members aren't so sure they're ready to hang out with the applicants. (Don't call the Freedom Caucus; the Freedom Caucus will call you.)
Why operate this way? As I understand it, the caucus will slowly grow, with current members carefully inviting a small group of colleagues to join, until it reaches about 30 members. At that point, the Freedom Caucus believes it will have all the clout it needs -- there are 246 House Republicans, and if 30 GOP members balk on a given vote, party leaders won't have the 218 votes necessary to pass legislation (at least without turning to Democrats, which means pushing more Republicans away).
A smaller Freedom Caucus means easier control, less debate, and more discipline. What could possibly go wrong?