The House Freedom Caucus rose to prominence as a rebellious band of about three dozen Republican lawmakers willing to buck their party establishment to tank legislation—or even topple House speakers—they deemed insufficiently conservative. Now the group has embraced a new role: President Trump’s de facto defense team in the impeachment investigation on Capitol Hill.
With closed-door depositions about to give way to public hearings, House Freedom Caucus members are poised to take on high-profile positions during impeachment’s next phase. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, told The Wall Street Journal he is planning a possible stint on the Intelligence Committee, which will hold its first public hearing Wednesday.
“If I’m on, I’m going to do the best that I can,” Mr. Jordan said, adding that he was preparing to help Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), who isn’t a Freedom Caucus member but is the top Republican on the panel. “We are united because we see this thing as a sham.”
Impeachment has galvanized Mr. Jordan and other leaders of the caucus, who approach their latest mission with the same ideological zeal that once drove them to battle the federal deficit and what they saw as presidential overreach by former President Barack Obama.
Freedom Caucus opposition
- influenced Ohio Republican John Boehner’s decision to resign as House speaker in 2015 and California Republican
- Kevin McCarthy’s decision to withdraw from the race to succeed him. The caucus also
- proved instrumental in President Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, which later failed. The group’s legislative power diminished within the GOP caucus when Republicans lost the House majority last year and because the House GOP has been largely unified in its objections to Democratic-led legislation and impeachment.
Members of the Freedom Caucus, formerly in conflict with leadership, now coordinate closely with House GOP Minority Leader McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.), and communicate frequently with the White House—and often Mr. Trump himself.
Though the formal portion of the probe started while Congress was in recess, caucus members Mr. Jordan and Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina have been present nearly every day for depositions. They arrive early in the morning and leave at roughly the same time as Chairman Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is leading the proceedings.
While Daniel Goldman, the director of investigations for the Intelligence Committee, has led questioning for Democrats, Stephen Castor, a lawyer who works for Mr. Jordan on the Oversight Committee, has dominated questions during the GOP’s time.
Freedom Caucus members and their allies have made a point of talking to reporters before and after the depositions, often beating Democrats to the cameras to put their spin on the day’s events first.
“Nothing new here,” Mr. Meadows said last month after Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, told House committees that the Trump administration made aid to Ukraine contingent on opening investigations into Mr. Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, as well as into unsupported allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Democrats say the president’s actions amount to an abuse of presidential power designed to boost his re-election prospects.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R., Ariz.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, said the group has been “integral in setting up the defense for President Trump and advocating for it,” a role he says the group is uniquely suited for.
“Any politician is a risk-taker on one hand, and on the other hand, they become risk-averse, and I think many in the Freedom Caucus are willing to take a risk,” Mr. Biggs said.
He likened the much-larger House GOP conference to a bulky, slow-moving cruise ship that can struggle to reach consensus on strategy or change course quickly to react to the daily news cycle. “You can’t turn on a dime,” he said.
The Freedom Caucus, by contrast, has the luxury of being smaller and more nimble—more like a speed boat, Mr. Biggs said. “We’re able to navigate, go real fast,” he said
The Freedom Caucus has shown division only once during the impeachment investigation: On Oct. 23 a group of Republicans, including members of the caucus like Mr. Biggs and Rep. Alex Mooney (R., W.Va.), who aren’t on the committees of jurisdiction, stormed into the secure area, saying they were upset they weren’t allowed into the hearings. Some of the members brought their cellphones into the room, a major breach of protocol. Mr. Meadows objected to breaking the rules and was one of the Republicans who took the phones away
Inside the secure deposition room in the U.S. Capitol, and outside, the lawmakers have called for the hearings to become public, which some now will be. Transcripts show how the caucus members have objected to the testimonies inside the secure room.
Democrats say Mr. Meadows is especially friendly, but once the testimony starts, the partisan swords come out.
“There are a number of very capable and intelligent members in the Freedom Caucus but unfortunately they are deploying all of their talents not to obtain the truth or to defend the constitution but rather to defend the president at all costs,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who has attended many of the depositions.
“It’s more than the checks, it’s the notes that come with them that really just blow me away,” Mr. Meadows said in an interview. Tears welled in his eyes as he recalled a check from an 87-year-old retired schoolteacher. “You get up the next morning and you go fight,” he said.
The tax cut fizzled; send in the clowns!
As far as I know, the Federal Reserve — the world’s most important economic policy institution — doesn’t have an anthem. But if it were to adopt one now, the choice would be obvious: “Send In the Clowns.”
You see, the Fed’s governing board currently has two vacancies, and Donald Trump has proposed filling those vacancies with ludicrous hacks. If he succeeds, one of our few remaining havens of serious, nonpartisan policymaking will be on its way toward becoming as corrupt and dysfunctional as the rest of the Trump administration.
Stephen Moore and Herman Cain are, of course, completely unqualified — I say “of course” because their lack of qualifications is, paradoxically, a key qualification not just for Trump but for the G.O.P. in general.
There are plenty of genuine monetary experts with conservative political leanings, some of them quite partisan. But modern Republicans have shown consistent disdain for such experts, perhaps because of a sense that anyone with real expertise or an independent reputation might occasionally be tempted to take a stand on principle.
There’s no risk that either Moore or Cain will ever take such a stand. In fact, what seems to have recommended both men to Trump was their evident willingness to completely reverse their policy views when politically expedient.
Both were hard-money men during the Obama years, demanding higher interest rates despite very high unemployment. Both have now taken to berating the Fed for failing to print more money in the face of low unemployment — because that’s what Trump wants.
That said, there’s a difference between the two men.
I wrote about Moore a couple of weeks ago, noting that he has long been a prominent fixture in the conservative movement; he is, basically, a classic right-wing hack who tries (incompetently) to impersonate an economic expert. Cain, on the other hand, is a spam king whose business model involves making his email list available to direct marketers.
Put it this way: In recent years Moore has been out there predicting magical results from tax cuts, putting out fake economic numbers, and giving speeches to FreedomFest. At the same time, Cain has been offering a platform for peddlers of get-rich schemes and cures for erectile dysfunction. So it says something about what Trump wants that he apparently sees the two men as equally valuable allies.
What does Trump want? His attempted beclowning of the Fed follows, I’d argue, from the fact that his one major legislative success, the 2017 tax cut — which he predicted would be “rocket fuel” for the economy — has turned out to be a big fizzle, economically and, especially, politically.
It’s true that U.S. economic growth got a bump for two quarters last year, and Trumpists are still pretending to believe that we’ll have great growth for a decade. But at this point last year’s growth is looking like a brief and rapidly fading sugar high.
Meanwhile, the tax cut remains unpopular, partly because few people perceived personal benefits, partly because voters appear to be less concerned about paying too much than with the sense that the rich — the prime beneficiaries of the Trump cut — are paying too little.
Some leaders might see such disappointments as reasons to make a course correction. But this is Trump: When the going gets tough, he blames someone else. Everything would have been great, he insists, if the Fed hadn’t thwarted his plans.
There’s a good argument to be made that the Fed misjudged the economy’s strength, that it raised interest rates too fast and that the economy would be doing somewhat better if it hadn’t. In fact, it’s an argument I agree with.
But that’s not what Trump is saying. He wants the Fed to act as if we were still in a deep depression; he wants it both to cut rates and to resume the emergency policies it pursued — and he denounced — when we had more than twice as much unemployment as we do today. This would, he insists, turn the economy into the “rocket ship” he originally promised.
You don’t have to be a gold bug or even an inflation hawk to see these demands as deeply irresponsible. Indeed, they sound a lot like the “macroeconomic populism” that has repeatedly led to economic disaster in Latin America, with Venezuela the latest example.
Running the printing presses to fight a depression, as the Fed did after the financial crisis, is prudent and sensible; running them because you refuse to accept the reality that your policies aren’t delivering an economic miracle is different, and always ends badly.
Now, even putting both Moore and Cain on the Fed board probably wouldn’t be enough to push America over the monetary edge. And so far, markets don’t seem worried about the potential for runaway inflation.
But maybe investors should be worried, at least a bit, by the spectacle of a president who would rather appoint hacks and debase the Fed’s integrity than admit that his policies aren’t working as promised. U.S. policymaking is looking ever more like that of a corrupt third-world regime. And that is bound, sooner or later, to have consequences.
By its astoundingly cynical approach to deficits and debt, the G.O.P. has opened the door to an expansive left.
That Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s brand of expansive, expensive socialism has found this moment so conducive to its popularity is no accident. Its rise has been uniquely fueled by President Trump, who as both a businessman and a politician has embodied a cartoon version of rapacious capitalism.
.. But it has also been emboldened by more conventional aspects of the Republican agenda, in particular the party’s astoundingly hypocritical approach to debt and deficits.
.. Under Mr. Obama, Paul Ryan, the outgoing speaker of the House, repeatedly blasted the president for declining to manage the federal budget. In 2012, he told the Republican National Convention that “in this generation, a defining responsibility of government is to steer our nation clear of a debt crisis while there is still time.”
.. A year earlier, Senator Mitch McConnell called the federal debt “the nation’s most serious long-term problem.” Over and over, Republicans cast Mr. Obama’s rising deficits as a profound social menace, a form of budgetary terrorism that threatened the country’s future.
.. The Republicans’ pretense to deficit hawkery put pressure on Democrats to adopt a similar stance. Whether or not most Democrats actually cared about the deficit, their leaders tended to act as if they did. So the health care law was structured, with the help of some gimmickry, to score as an overall reduction to the federal deficit, and Mr. Obama, in speeches, singled out entitlement spending as the biggest driver of the long-term debt and convened a bipartisan committee to recommend deficit-reduction strategies.
.. Nor do Republicans appear ready to reverse course. President Trump recently proposed a $12 billion bailout for farmers hurt by the trade war he started, and senior White House advisers have called for a second round of tax cuts that would make permanent the individual rate cuts in the first tax law, at a cost of roughly $600 billion.
Reports suggest the administration is mulling a unilateral change to the taxation of capital gains that would add another $100 billion to the deficit. Another giant spending bill is on the horizon.
.. The party’s hypocrisy on the budget is not new. After Bill Clinton dramatically shrank both deficits and government spending as a share of the economy, George W. Bush took office and proceeded to dramatically increase both.
.. Through their actions, they have proven that they cared about the deficit primarily for its usefulness as a political cudgel, an easy way to curtail Democratic policy goals.
.. .. Think tanks from across the political spectrum estimate a Bernie Sanders-style single-payer system would cost around $32 trillion over a decade, and while that might be less, overall, than the current partially private system, the challenge would be to finance the enormous increase in government spending on health care.
.. both her errors and answers seemed to suggest that finding plausible ways to finance the full cost of her policies is not exactly at the top of her agenda.
.. there is already a movement within liberal policy circles arguing that debt and deficits are far less important than most lawmakers have assumed.
.. although Republicans will surely attack the new class of Democratic Socialists and their policies as debt-increasing budget busters — that is, after all, what Republicans do — their own actions will ensure that those criticisms have no real authority. Their opposition to the socialist agenda will be hollow, because they helped make that agenda possible.