Rep. David Schweikert, who co-founded the far-right House Freedom Caucus in 2015, formally announced his departure from the group last week for a rather bizarre reason.
In the Arizona Republican's telling, the Freedom Caucus name has become too toxic — but only because of its counterpart in the state's legislature.
When asked whether the House Freedom Caucus and its penchant for extreme conservatism were politically damaging to him in a district he just narrowly won during last year’s midterm elections, Schweikert deflected blame to local lawmakers in Arizona.
Here’s what Schweikert told Punchbowl News:
I spend a lot of time trying to explain — the Freedom Caucus is the right to legislate. But the more difficult thing in my district is actually explaining the difference between my state Freedom Caucus from the federal one. It’s just so hard to explain that they get to use our name, but they’re not us.
Schweikert, who told Punchbowl the Arizona House caucus is “much more populist,” seems to be drawing a difference without a distinction here. And he’s making some pretty bizarre assumptions about his voters’ intelligence, as well. The Arizona Freedom Caucus is modeled after the House Freedom Caucus, and shares many of its legislative priorities, including a desire to curb voting rights, abortion rights, rights for LGBTQ people and educational rights.
Schweikert said, “I had people yelling at me, ‘You’re a member of the Freedom Caucus’ and I keep saying, ‘I’m not a member of the state Freedom Caucus. I go to Washington.’”
But that exchange doesn’t indicate any confusion on his constituents’ part. Until recently, he had been a member of a Freedom Caucus. And considering he represents a swing district trending toward Democrats, in a state trending toward Democrats generally, a more logical reason possibly driving Schweikert to distance himself from the House Freedom Caucus is because the association doesn’t help him politically. He can sever ties without admitting the group's inherent toxicity.
Schweikert's defection is the latest crack in the facade of party unity Republicans have tried to sell in 2023. With the GOP holding a slim majority in the House, Schweikert will be a vote to watch.
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