Freedom Caucus members consider leaving the RSC

Greg Nash

Some members of the hard-line Freedom Caucus are considering leaving the Republican Study Committee in the next Congress, potentially creating a split between two influential groups of House conservatives.

The House Freedom Caucus and its roughly 40 members have long clashed with the RSC over what tactics to use when pushing for conservative legislation.

{mosads}“Certainly there are some HFC members who will not join RSC in the new Congress,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, told The Hill on Monday. “I don’t plan to join again. I respect the work Bill Flores has done, but I just have not been as active with the group this Congress.” 

The Freedom Caucus was formed in January of last year by nine lawmakers who felt the RSC had become too aligned with GOP leadership. At the time, one of the founding members of the caucus, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), had just lost the race for RSC chairman to Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas). 

Months before, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) had accused GOP leaders of twisting arms to help Flores win the contest, something Flores and the leadership team denied. 

Before Flores, the RSC was led by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is now the House majority whip. 

RSC Executive Director Scott Parkinson downplayed talk that as many as 20 Freedom Caucus members could defect from the 178-member group. He said the RSC has always expected to lose some members next year due to the usual factors of retirements and lawmakers losing their reelection races.

“We are confident that we’re going to have a very, very large membership heading into the next Congress,” Parkinson told The Hill. 

The difference between the Freedom Caucus and RSC is mostly in strategy, given that they largely agree on policy. 

The RSC includes more than 70 percent of the 247-member House GOP conference and tends to work behind the scenes to influence policy. 

The Freedom Caucus, meanwhile, is highly selective about who it lets into its ranks. Its members publicly clash with leadership and frequently vote as a bloc to maximize their leverage. 

While the Freedom Caucus makes up a small minority of the GOP conference, it has leverage when voting as a bloc. If all 40 members vote against a bill, Republican leaders cannot secure the minimum of 218 votes for passage without Democrats.

Freedom Caucus members who are mulling whether to defect from the RSC will have to make up their minds soon, with the chairmanship vote looming this fall. 

RSC founders plan to meet with candidates on Sept. 13; the group will hold an election for chairman on Nov. 17. But there’s a catch: Any lawmaker in the RSC who wants to vote in the chairmanship election must renew their membership first.

“A competitive election will help us get renewals,” Parkinson said. 

The Daily Signal, which first reported on the possible exodus from the RSC, noted that at least two lawmakers may be in the mix for the RSC chairman race: Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.). 

Walker’s office confirmed that he is mulling a bid for RSC chairman.

“Congressman Walker is part of the discussion to be RSC chairman and is excited about the encouragement he is receiving as he considers running,” Walker spokesman Jack Minor said.

A spokeswoman for Harris didn’t immediately return a request for comment. 

—Scott Wong contributed.

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