Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership

Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership
© Greg Nash

Two members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, a group that has earned a reputation for being a thorn in the side of GOP leadership, are now vying for a chance to sit at the leadership table themselves. 

Rep. David SchweikertDavid SchweikertEthics Committee releases new details on allegations against Arizona GOP lawmaker GOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped Bipartisan resolution aims to protect lawmakers amid heightened threats of violence MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Hill that he is exploring a bid to chair the Republican Policy Committee, the No. 5 spot in leadership. 

And Rep. Gary PalmerGary James PalmerHouse passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal Palmer's Paris agreement bashing lacks policy basis Tensions rise during GOP leadership meeting over dues MORE (R-Ala.) has already been reaching out to colleagues about running for the post, according to GOP sources. 

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“I have powerful interest” in the role, Schweikert told The Hill. 


But, Schweikert added, he hopes the pair of Freedom Caucus members can come to an agreement before the leadership elections, so they don’t have to compete on the same ballot.

“We’ll sit down and have a conversation,” Schweikert said. “Hopefully he and I can come to an accommodation.”

Palmer said he hasn’t talked to Schweikert about their possible competition yet.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTestimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House Former Ukraine envoy unexpectedly returns to Capitol Hill MORE (R-Ohio), a co-founder of the conservative caucus, said he is contemplating a bid for Speaker, though it’s largely seen as a tactical move to pull conservative votes away from the frontrunner.  

The idea is to extract concessions from any Speaker candidate, such as allowing Freedom Caucus members to serve on powerful committees or giving them other spots in leadership.

Palmer and Schweikert could be some of the beneficiaries of that prospective strategy as they eye the GOP policy committee chairmanship.

The post, which is responsible for developing the party’s legislative proposals, is currently occupied by Rep. Luke MesserAllen (Luke) Lucas MesserK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Yoder, Messer land on K Street House GOP to force members to give up leadership positions if running for higher office MORE (R-Ind.), who is leaving Congress after launching a failed Senate bid earlier this year. 

Schweikert, who rode the 2010 Tea Party wave to Congress, thinks he would be a good fit for the job, given his finance background and seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. The Arizona Republican said he enjoys getting lost in the wonky policy details — or “geeking out,” as he calls it — and says he often sees the world through the lens of a calculator.

Schweikert’s early pitch to colleagues has centered on his vision of incorporating more digital, data-driven solutions into policymaking — from how health care is delivered to the way people carry around their driver’s licenses and other identification.

“I have a personal fixation that technology has given us so many amazing opportunities that we should be weaving into policy,” Schweikert said. “How do we make sure that when we’re making policy, we’re forward-leaning?”

Schweikert’s work on the GOP tax law could also help bolster his case for leading the Republican Policy Committee. 

But Palmer, who chairs an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee and sits on the Budget Committee, also boasts strong policy credentials. The two-term congressman led the Alabama Policy Institute for 25 years before he ran for office. 

“What I can bring to that job is someone who is policy-oriented and solution-oriented,” Palmer told The Hill. “Also, a recognition you need to engage all the members.”

Palmer, who calls himself the “conference nerd” and joked to The Hill about reading Government Accountability Office reports for fun, noted that he spearheaded a health-care amendment to create an invisible risk-sharing program to cover sicker patients. He credited the provision, which was co-sponsored by Schweikert, with reviving the House’s stalled health-care bill.

“When we pulled the health-care bill. ... I went back to the Speaker and said I think we can bring this back,” Palmer said. “I was able to walk people through this and get buy-in.”

“So, I see a lot of opportunities to do things like that,” he added.

Schweikert, who praised Palmer, emphasized that he doesn’t plan to openly challenge Palmer. He said he hopes they will come to an agreement where only one of them would run — similar to a deal worked out by Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisHouse conservatives attempt to access closed-door impeachment hearing GOP lawmakers, states back gunmaker in Sandy Hook appeal Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess MORE (R-Md.) and former Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2016. Franks agreed to drop out of the race to be the Republican Study Committee chairman to allow Harris to run.

“In some ways, we’d all be better for it, no matter who wins,” said Schweikert.

Palmer also heaped compliments on Schweikert, though noted he only recently learned that his fellow Freedom Caucus member was interested in the job.

“Schweikert is an example of someone in the conference who is a really talented individual. Really good on policy,” Palmer said.

Whichever lawmaker ends up running for GOP policy chairman will likely lock down the powerful caucus’s votes. But Palmer or Schweikert could struggle to attract support from the wider conference if another candidate jumps into the race. 

Their group of conservative rabble-rousers has been successful at bending the party to their will and blocking legislation on the House floor, at times creating headaches for some of their colleagues.

Schweikert has previously been on the receiving end of GOP leadership’s wrath because of his ties to the caucus.

Schweikert used to serve on the House Financial Services Committee, but he was kicked off the panel in 2012 when former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Ohio) was still in charge. Schweikert and his allies claimed it was retaliation for not always voting in line with the party.

When Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) took the gavel, however, Schweikert was put on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which some saw as an olive branch. House Freedom Caucus members have long complained that they don’t get plum committee assignments.

Despite their Freedom Caucus membership, both Schweikert and Palmer have shown a willingness to be team players in the party. 

Earlier this year, many caucus members opposed the GOP farm bill, a top priority for Ryan, over an unrelated immigration fight. 

Schweikert and Palmer, however, both supported the measure.

“I understand politics has got to be one of the variables, part of the equation up here,” Palmer said. “But I think a lot of the politics can be handled by presenting a sound policy idea with good messaging.”