Is there room for another GOP caucus? Main Street chairman says yes

Camille Fine

After Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) abruptly announced his retirement this fall, three-term Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) found himself in an unexpected role: chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus.

The brand new caucus — just two months old — is comprised of moderates and conservatives who are interested in “governing” and “getting to yes,” said Davis, 47, a former longtime aide to Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). 

In an interview with The Hill this week, Davis explained why he believes there’s room in the crowded Capitol for yet another GOP caucus, whether Main Street will ever band together like the Freedom Caucus to make policy demands to leadership and the biggest difference he sees between Presidents Obama and Trump.

{mosads}Q : Who are the members of the Republican Main Street Caucus and what does the group stand for?


I really look at Main Street and the group that we are — 72 people in our conference  — and I see people who are taking the tough votes and sometimes swallowing what wouldn’t be a perfect bill, but one that is about 80 percent good. And I saw those same 72 members go back to try to fix the 20 percent that might not have been perfect. And it seems to me that sometimes we have lost the ability to govern through the legislative process without getting to perfection.

That’s hindered us, and it’s allowed much more opportunity for brinksmanship: Republican-on-Republican brinksmanship or Democrat-on-Republican brinksmanship. And I don’t think that’s conducive for putting good policy forward for the country.

Q : There’s already a moderate Tuesday Group, a conservative Republican Study Committee and a bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Do House Republicans really need another caucus? Won’t there be some redundancy?

There’s always going to be redundancy and repetitiveness when we talk about the legislative process, but in this case I think it’s an opportunity. … We’re going to be value-add to the entire conference, value-add to those different organizations, because we’re part of those organizations. We’re not here to compete, we’re here to be an additional voice. … To me, that’s not something that takes away from anything else, but it adds to the debate of what we need to do as a conference to move good policy forward.

Q: You remain a member of the Tuesday Group, but it seems the Republican Main Street Caucus came out of Tuesday Group infighting during the health-care debate. Can you explain what happened?

During the health-care debate, I was for the bill. There were others in leadership of the Tuesday Group who obviously were not, so I would go on different media outlets and people would identify me as part of the Tuesday Group and I would say, “I don’t speak for the Tuesday Group. I speak for me, and I’m for this bill.” … It’s unfortunate a lot of us have to get labeled based on what organization we are a part of. If we are being labeled, why not be labeled the Main Street Republicans, people who are trying to work together to get things done. We’re not a moderate group. We’ve got people who are conservative; there are those who would consider themselves moderate. There are those who want to govern, to sit down and get to “yes” on major pieces of legislation. … We’re the governing caucus.

Q: The roughly 30 members of the far-right Freedom Caucus have been able to band together to extract certain demands from GOP leadership. With 70-plus members, do you see Main Street employing those same tactics to pull legislation in your direction?

That will depend upon the issue. Obviously, I can’t sit here and say that that won’t ever be utilized, but when you look at our organization, we’ve got some of the senior members of our committees who are tasked with writing these major pieces of legislation. We’re kind of at the point where we’re engaged in the process earlier.

I don’t anticipate that’s a tactic that we would have to use on a regular basis, but I also hope it’s something that when the time comes, absolutely I would ask the members to band together to do that. But again, it will be issues by issue and time will tell if that’s necessary. … As the chairman, and I would hope the members would agree with me, absolutely we can’t rule that out.

Q : Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) holds a weekly meeting in his office with all the chairmen of the various GOP caucuses. Are you fighting for a seat at the table? 

We already have it. We requested it. I’m not going say this lunch is where the entire legislative process funnels to because I was already part of processes in the past on the health-care debate. I think it adds another voice of how do we get to governing, how do we get to yes, rather than throwing out demands in front of the process. Time will tell what our seat at the table means. But one thing I found out about Washington, D.C., since I got here is it’s a lot less strategic than I had imagined, and I look at that as an opportunity for us to have our voices heard in that process. It’s a lot less
top-down than I think the perception is about Washington. Trust me, if it was a top-down approach, we’d be a lot more disciplined out here.

Q : Both you and President Obama are from Illinois. What was your relationship with him and what’s been your experience with President Trump so far?

At the first State of the Union that I witnessed [in 2013] … I said, “You know, Mr. President, I came here to help govern. I would love to be able to sit down with you and talk on areas where we can agree.” He said, “Well, come on by,” and we shook hands and left. We tried. Couldn’t even get a West Wing tour when my kids were here. … And really, that was a big disappointment for me because I think there’s some areas where I’ve proven I was willing to work with them on. … And I think there is a big difference with the Trump administration’s openness when it comes to just allowing people to come over.

I’ve been at this White House in meetings with this president more in nine months than I was in four years serving under the president from my home state. And it really made an impression on me because it showed that this administration wants to work with us to get things done, to pass major pieces of legislation that are their priorities, too.

I actually have grown even more supportive of the president over my time serving with him because — [aside from the] Twitter wars and the constant headlines in the news media — let’s just talk about a willingness to sit down and engage with us. It’s something that I wasn’t used to.

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