Group of conservative Republicans who once toppled party leadership finds new role in impeachment probe
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.