Freedom Caucus at crossroads amid internal clash



Freedom caucus 071124 Photo AP

The House Freedom Caucus, long known for being at the center of strife in the House GOP, is at a crossroads that leaves the hard-right group’s influence in question.

Its ouster of Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), just the latest to face retribution in this Congress after being seen as insufficiently loyal, is exposing bitter division, prompting another member to voluntarily leave the group and fueling worries that others could soon head for the exits.

Jockeying that could decide the Freedom Caucus’s future leadership and direction is already getting underway as Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) has privately indicated that he would step down as chair if his planned long-shot recount bid to reverse his primary loss is unsuccessful, multiple sources tell The Hill.

Good’s primary, in which he came up 374 votes short against challenger state Sen. John McGuire, was the catalyst for much of the discord in the group.

Good faced one blow when former President Trump endorsed McGuire in an apparent act of revenge. Good had initially endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in the GOP presidential primary, with his swift support for Trump after DeSantis dropped out being “too late” for the former president.

But what had more ramifications for the Freedom Caucus itself was when Davidson endorsed McGuire just before the primary, making an unheard-of public move against his group’s leader.

It was not the first clash between the two men. Davidson stepped down from the Freedom Caucus board when Good was named chair in December, Axios reported at the time. Davidson wrote in a letter to members at the time that Good would “impair” the group’s ability to increase its influence with Republican colleagues. Good was one of eight Republicans to vote to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and faced a wave of other Republicans endorsing his opponent.

Davidson was removed from the group of roughly three dozen members by a fairly close vote of 16-13 on Monday, exposing internal divisions that raise questions about the core strategy of the group.

Those who supported Davidson’s removal would say that it is simply improper to have Freedom Caucus members openly campaign against and criticize each other, and those who do so must be punished.

“Warren, I think, he removed himself,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said.

One of those in opposition to removing Davidson was Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the founding former chair of the Freedom Caucus and now chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Warren’s a great member. I was totally opposed to kicking him out. I’ve been opposed to removing anyone — you know Marjorie, and other people, I’ve always been opposed to that,” Jordan said, referring to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) being pushed out of the group last year.

Some Freedom Caucus members brush off the interest in its internal dynamics as pure palace intrigue.

But it also shows disagreement about the core mission and purpose of the powerful caucus — whether the group that is known for its hard-line conservative tactics should remain a minority of the House GOP, or aim to expand so much that its hard-right positions on policy gain more influence.

Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), who said he would step down from the Freedom Caucus in wake of Davidson’s removal, mentioned the organization’s growth in his reasoning for doing so.

“I want to grow the organization and encourage more members to join. With tonight’s vote it was clear that is not their objective,” Nehls said in a statement. “I value what the [Freedom Caucus] brings to the table and I can assure them I will continue to support their conservative agenda. I just won’t be a member.”

Others could be on the way out behind him.

Norman said that he anticipated losing more members — but that the group will also pick up some more. Another source suggested that members of the group frustrated by its direction may not be so public about it, but simply part ways at the end of this Congress.

The public persona of the group, though, could be heavily influenced by its next chairman.

The universe of members who could replace Good as chair is small. Members already being floated to take that role include, but are not limited to, Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).

A spokesperson for the Freedom Caucus, which is known for being highly private, said that the group does not comment on internal matters.

Davidson, meanwhile, told The Hill that he has been flooded with invitations to join other groups and caucuses — even getting an invitation to events by some Democrats — and sees it as an indication of outsiders “somewhat rejoicing” at the discord in the Freedom Caucus and Good’s primary loss.

One GOP member told The Hill that the move to oust Davidson reflects poorly on the group: “If an organization throws someone of Warren Davidson’s character out, it is a s—ty organization.”

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), chair of the Republican Governance Group (formerly known as the Tuesday Group), is one of those who sought out Davidson to invite him to join his more moderate GOP caucus. Davidson has not made any decisions yet.

“I appreciate their hospitality,” Davidson said.

Greene, who had sparked frustration from fellow Freedom Caucus members by clashing with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and becoming close to McCarthy while he was Speaker, similarly said that the Freedom Caucus is making a mistake by purging members: “If they really wanted to make changes, they would grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, and take over the Republican conference.”

She also suggested the group shouldbuild relationships with leadership if it wanted to make substantive changes.

“That’s what I did with Kevin McCarthy, which ultimately led to them kicking me out. They didn’t like that, because that’s not what they want,” Greene said. “All they want to do is destroy, destroy, destroy.”

Freedom Caucus members like Roy strongly disagree with that sentiment.

“The policies that have been achieved over the last 18 months, driven heavily by Freedom Caucus ideas and Freedom Caucus tactics, I think speak for themselves,” Roy said, mentioning the House GOP’s H.R. 2 border bill; the Limit, Save, Grow debt ceiling increase bill that was the opening bid in negotiations with the White House over the debt limit last year; and top-line spending caps that “were forced by the whole conversation pushed by Freedom Caucus.”

And any antagonists of the Freedom Caucus reveling in its most recent drama should not expect it to stop the hard-line tactics, Roy indicated.

“For the very small handful of people who might delight in reported conflict: Of course they do. They don’t like being held accountable by the Freedom Caucus,” Roy said. 

“Guess what? They’re going to continue to be held accountable by the Freedom Caucus,” Roy said.

Mychael Schnell contributed.



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