Freedom Caucus demanding McCarthy cede some power as price for support
The Freedom Caucus is pushing for the Republican leader to hand more power to his caucus, demanding stronger roles for House committee chairs in exchange for backing Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for speaker.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus, which boasts more than 40 members, is proposing a wide array of changes to House rules ahead of a floor vote in January on McCarthy’s speakership bid. The conservative lawmakers want to gut the speaker’s ability to appoint committee chairmen, instead allowing a panel’s individual members to vote on the position.
“Each member of Congress has earned and deserves equal participation in the legislative process,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Montana Republican.
At the moment, Republican committee chairmen and members are chosen by the internal steering committee. The panel is made up of leadership allies, with individual members also allowed to run for seats representing regions of the country.
The Freedom Caucus is pushing to give the House committee chairs more power in the next Congress in exchange for backing Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for speaker. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images)
Leadership allies say the process is open and fair and ensures no single person has total control. Critics say that McCarthy and other top Republicans dominate the panel, rewarding supporters and punishing members likely to buck leadership.
As proof, members of the Freedom Caucus cite that several of their members have been left off of committees that would appear to be a natural fit.
“Committees should have people on them that have experience in that field,” said Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn. “That’s just common sense to me.”
McCarthy’s allies pushed back on the assertion, noting that several high-profile committees were stacked with individuals whose backgrounds perfectly fit the panels’ area of jurisdiction.
“You have to remember that people have their roles,” said Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio. Freedom Caucus member Warren Davidson, he noted, “is on the Financial Services Committee, and that makes sense because he ran a business. [Rep.] Brad Wenstrup is a doctor, and he’s on the Ways and Means Committee, which touches on health policy.”
Outside of committee assignments and chairmen, the Freedom Caucus also wants to restore regular order in the House. That means requiring every single piece of major legislation to be debated and voted in committee before heading to the House floor.
Freedom Caucus hardliners say a return to regular order is especially important on budget and appropriations bills. Congress in recent years has seen such bills assembled on the floor by leadership and passed with limited debate. In some cases, House leaders even vote to suspend normal operating procedures to expedite legislation.
“I don’t think I even know what regular order is,” said Harshbarger, a pharmacist who was first elected in 2020.
The Freedom Caucus is pushing a rules change proposal that would require all legislation to go through committee and be public for more than 72 hours before being voted on.
Hard-line conservatives feel as though they have leverage in the aftermath of the 2022 midterm elections results.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
The group also is pushing for a ban on bills being tied together and passed en bloc. The Freedom Caucus wants more control over the House Rules Committee, which has authority over how legislation comes to the floor and is voted on.
“It’s probably the most powerful committee no one has ever heard of,” said one Freedom Caucus member. “The committee can write a rule saying that if a bill to rename a local post office in Kentucky passes then another bill with major policy implications is ‘deemed passed.’”
The Freedom Caucus wants the Republican conference to nominate and elect the chairman and members of the House Rules Committee. That push, like many of the rule changes proposed by the Freedom Caucus, faces an uphill battle.
But the hard-line conservatives feel as though they have leverage because of last week’s election results.
At the low end, the GOP could wind up with a 218-seat majority, the bare minimum needed to control the House. If Republicans sweep all outstanding races, including some in which Democrats are favored, the majority could reach as high as 226 seats.
McCarthy, the GOP’s designated candidate for speaker, will need at least 218 votes on the House floor in January to clinch the job. During an initial test vote this week, the would-be speaker fell more than 30 votes short of that target because of opposition from hardliners.
Conservatives say that in order to receive their support for speaker on the floor, McCarthy will have to offer concessions on House rules. Restoring regular order and the independence of committee chairs is one place that can start, they claim.
“I think those are important to empower regular members to have the influence in Congress that their constituents elected them to have,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.