Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman

Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman
© Greg Nash

The conservative rabble-rouser who successfully led the charge to oust Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE last year is running to become the next chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus, The Hill has learned.

In an interview Monday, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said he hopes to replace founding Freedom Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who several sources say is expected to step down after leading the influential bloc of ultra-conservative House members the past two years.

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“I would like to throw my hat in the ring for that position,” Meadows said in a phone interview after campaigning with GOP vice presidential nominee Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSocial distancing works, but resistance prompts worries of growing crisis White House: Anyone 'in close proximity' to Trump or Pence will be tested for coronavirus Watch live: Coronavirus task force holds press briefing MORE in North Carolina. 

“If Jim doesn’t run and I’m reelected” to Congress, Meadows continued, “then I would certainly look to try to gain some support to replace him, only if it was with his blessing and the blessing of the majority of the Freedom Caucus.”

Meadows clarified that he would back Jordan “110 percent” if the chairman decided he wanted to stay on for a third, one-year term. A Jordan spokesman said his boss was focused on electing Republicans on Nov. 8.

The nearly 40 members of the Freedom Caucus will hold an internal election on Nov. 28, a few weeks after House Republicans elect their leadership team for the 115th Congress. Freedom Caucus bylaws state that the group’s chairman must be selected from the group’s nine-member board of directors.

The possibility of Meadows heading the Freedom Caucus comes during a difficult stretch for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE (R-Wis.). A Freedom Caucus lawmaker, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), is vying to become chairman of the 178-member Republican Study Committee, or RSC. Having a Freedom member leading that caucus — the largest on Capitol Hill — could pose additional headaches for the Speaker, who himself is an RSC member.

Leaders of the Freedom Caucus recently held a conference call in which they discussed the possibility of backing a challenger to Ryan in next month’s Speaker’s race. Meadows told a local radio station last week that the effort to oust Ryan is “picking up some steam” after the Speaker said he would not defend or campaign with the GOP’s presidential nominee, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE.

"A lot of people who believe so desperately that we need to put Donald Trump in the White House — they question the loyalty of the Speaker," Meadows told WAAV radio in Wilmington, N.C., according to CNN.

But Meadows told The Hill he’s entirely focused on electing Republicans in the Tarheel State on Nov. 8, not the internal GOP leadership races. On Monday, he introduced Pence at a rally at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., describing the Indiana governor as very “upbeat.”

“My whole focus is really more on the presidential race, the governor’s race and my race for Congress,” said Meadows, a real-estate developer who represents the western edge of North Carolina. “To waste any energy on leadership races would be taking our eye off the goal.”

One of the nine House conservatives who co-founded the Freedom Caucus in early 2015, Meadows is the only declared candidate in the chairman’s race so far. Given his popularity within the group, several Freedom member say he’d be hard to beat.

“Mark has already proven he’s a great leader. He will be able to build onto what Jordan started,” said retiring Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonArizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate Arizona governor faces pressure over McCain replacement MORE (R-Ariz.), a co-founder of the caucus. “He doesn’t back down from a fight.” 

That was the case in the summer of 2015, when Meadows unexpectedly introduced a resolution on the House floor to oust then-Speaker BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE, an Ohio Republican, in the middle of his third term. The “motion to vacate” resolution detailed a litany of complaints against Boehner, including that he limited amendments too much and punished those who disagreed with him.

The resolution festered during Congress’s summer recess that year, and Boehner resigned from Congress shortly after lawmakers returned to Washington that September. When Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suddenly bowed out of the race to replace Boehner, Ryan — the Ways and Means Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee — reluctantly agreed to take the job.

Meadows has already proved to be a thorn in Ryan’s side. During a meeting in the Speaker’s office in May, Meadows and Jordan threatened to force a floor vote to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen unless Ryan held impeachment hearings.

In Monday’s interview, the mild-mannered Meadows said he is cordial with Ryan but not a close friend. However, Ryan did host Meadows at a dinner earlier this year with small group of lawmakers. 

If Meadows does succeed Jordan, he would likely become part of Ryan’s group of informal advisers, which meets in the Speaker’s office weekly. The group includes leaders of the various factions of the House Republican Conference: the Freedom Caucus, RSC and the centrist Tuesday Group.

“If I’ve got something that’s important as it relates to policy or something that is critical, I will reach out to [Ryan] and have a discussion,” Meadows said.

“It’s a professional relationship, not a personal one.”