A week after the midterm elections in November, a small group of far-right GOP lawmakers and activists gathered on K Street in Washington, D.C., to discuss strategies to use their narrow majority to extract power in the House. The next Congress, influential activist Ed Corrigan said, could be a “European-style coalition government” run by three groups: “The Democrats, the Republicans and the Freedom Caucus.”
The forum was convened by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and attended by several other lawmakers, including two others who helped block Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) this week from becoming House speaker: Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Victoria Spartz, R-Ind.
The strategy outlined by Corrigan went beyond just extracting concessions from House leaders — it amounted to a game plan for the House Freedom Caucus to operate as a third party in a de facto parliamentary system, essentially co-governing the chamber with mainstream Republicans. As lawmakers prepared for a seventh round of voting on Thursday, House Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of allowing that to happen.
“What would coalition government look like in practice?” Corrigan asked the group, which was filmed and livestreamed but has attracted little notice beyond conservative media. “I would recommend the Freedom Caucus would be granted a specific number of committee assignments, and committee and subcommittee chairmanships,” as well as a variety of other new powers, including putting a Freedom Caucus member as chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.
This week, McCarthy has reportedly been conceding to a litany of demands from the Freedom Caucus — including the possibility of placing members of the caucus as chairs of committees and adding members to the House Rules Committee, a move that would help Freedom Caucus members steer how many and which amendments are offered for bills on the House floor, a crucial function.
Addressing the lawmakers at the November forum was a four-person panel including former Republican Study Committee director Paul Teller and three leaders of the influential far-right nonprofit Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI): Corrigan, president of CPI and a former member of Donald Trump’s transition team; CPI senior partner Mark Meadows, a former lawmaker who in 2015 filed the “motion to vacate” that led to John Boehner’s removal as speaker of the House; and CPI senior policy director Rachel Bovard, a former longtime Capitol Hill aide.
The episode suggests that the endgame for the approximately 20 hard-right House members who have voted against McCarthy for speaker of the House is more ambitious than merely boosting representation in the House for Freedom Caucus members — it is about securing the Freedom Caucus a say in all decision-making made by the new Republican majority.
Rather than extracting concessions from McCarthy, the actions this week by the small group of breakaway Republicans appear to be following Corrigan’s game plan to essentially co-govern the lower chamber of the legislative branch.
Tuesday marked the first time in more than 100 years that the House failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot. Because the House cannot function without a speaker in place, its business has essentially been ground to a halt: preventing the swearing-in of members-elect, stalling congressional oversight efforts, scuttling classified intelligence briefings and barring the consideration of legislation.
After the midterms, Corrigan advised the lawmakers to leverage House Republicans’ narrower-than-expected majority as a negotiating tool.
The House Freedom Caucus, Corrigan said at the Nov. 14, 2022, meeting, “has extraordinary power to negotiate a leadership arrangement” and urged them to try to extract a litany of concessions from McCarthy, some of which had been floated previously by Freedom Caucus members as they prepared for Republicans to retake the House. Freedom Caucus members should “negotiate directly with the speaker for committee positions for Freedom Caucus members,” as well as “a specific number of committee assignments and full committee and subcommittee chairmanships,” he said.
Corrigan suggested the Freedom Caucus ask for changes to the “motion to vacate” rule, which allows members to call a vote over the speakership. As of Thursday, McCarthy appeared prepared to restore the motion to vacate in accordance with conservatives’ demands.
Corrigan also made a case that the Freedom Caucus should negotiate for the chairmanship of the powerful House Rules Committee, “or at least three of the four members.”
The House Rules Committee determines how many amendments and which amendments are offered on the House floor, granting its members extraordinary power to guide the business of Congress. The rules committee is usually made up of tenured lawmakers and allies of the speaker.
In recent days, McCarthy has acquiesced to a number of the Freedom Caucus’ demands — and he may be prepared to go even further as he tries to win the speaker’s gavel. According to reporting from Politico, he has agreed to concessions that include placing more Freedom Caucus members on the House Rules Committee. Freedom Caucus members continue to push for seats on powerful committee and subcommittee chairmanships, which would further help them guide the direction of the next Congress.
At one point, Meadows suggested what he admitted was a “radical idea”: Lawmakers should “quit appropriating for things that are not authorized,” meaning that any government program that had not been reauthorized by Congress on time shouldn’t get funding until Congress reapproves it. Meadows cited the State Department as an example: Congress has not updated the laws governing the department since 2002.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a former chairman of the Rules Committee who has voted for McCarthy in the fight over House speaker, was also among the lawmakers in attendance. He seemed to suggest at one point that some ideas being floated during the meeting would make it harder for the Republican majority to function.
“In going through this process, we need to make sure the stability of the majority is still there, while somehow holding the leadership accountable,” Sessions said.
In practice, however, “it would be implausible” for the House Freedom Caucus to control the House through its Rules Committee, said Tim LaPira, professor of political science at James Madison University. The Rules Committee represents one small minority faction within the Republican Party, and enactment of rules requires a majority vote in the House. Any other small group of Republicans could join with Democrats to defeat a hypothetical Freedom Caucus-led rules package.
The breakaway Republicans are not likely to be successful in achieving co-governing status with mainstream Republicans, LaPira told Grid. “They have succeeded in showing everybody that they are not willing to govern responsibly,” he said.
The House Freedom Caucus — an influential, invitation-only group of about three dozen of the most right-leaning members of the House, which does not make its member list public — has close ties to CPI.
The two fundraising arms of the Freedom Caucus — House Freedom Fund and House Freedom Action — are based out of the CPI office, making monthly office rent payments totaling $8,000 to an LLC tied to the institute, according to Federal Election Commission data, and the Freedom Caucus holds its weekly meetings at CPI’s Capitol Hill headquarters.
Members who have voted against McCarthy this week are almost all Freedom Caucus members or were endorsed by the Freedom Caucus’ campaign arm, and many have close ties to CPI. The breakaway group’s choice for speaker on Wednesday, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., appeared last year in a testimonial video for CPI along with Gaetz and Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Chip Roy, R-Texas, each of whom have supported Donalds’ bid for speaker.
Other members who voted against McCarthy this week include Reps. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who have paid membership dues to CPI, according to FEC records.
The episode also highlights the tensions brewing within the Republican Party.
During the run-up to his bid for speaker, McCarthy forged relationships with some far-right lawmakers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has been supporting McCarthy’s speakership bid. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the former chair of the House Freedom Caucus, has continued to vote for McCarthy even though he was the breakaway group’s nominee for the speakership during the second and third ballots on Wednesday.
“We are on day 2 and the same Never Kevin group is now on their 3rd Speaker candidate,” Greene posted Wednesday on the social media platform Truth Social. “People are truly beginning to realize they have no plan, and they are sick and tired of ‘trust the plan’ that’s a complete secret and never produces results.”
Trump has endorsed McCarthy’s bid for speaker, yet his political action committee donated $1 million last year to CPI, and the nonprofit is led in part by Meadows, his former chief of staff.
On Wednesday, another CPI leader — its chairman, Jim DeMint — signed on to a statement with other conservative leaders formally calling on the House to pick a speaker other than McCarthy.
CPI did not immediately return a request for comment.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.