Our first branch of government in the United States has been paralyzed and thrown into chaos — again — by a small cadre of far-right MAGA members of the House Freedom Caucus. It’s not by fluke or flaw, but rather the disciplined execution of a plan. And both the Democrats and Republicans had better wake up to the new reality if they want to preserve a government capable of responding to international crises and the needs of the American people.
The writing was on the wall less than a week after the November 2022 elections gave Republicans a razor-thin majority in the House. On Nov. 14, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) convened a forum on House Rules with leaders of the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI) that laid out the Freedom Caucus plan for wielding unprecedented power over Congress.
“In light of the narrow majority, activist members of the House Freedom Caucus should recognize and embrace what we have today, which is de facto European-style coalition government,” noted lead panelist and CPI President and CEO Ed Corrigan. “In a sense, we have three political parties in the House: the Democrats, the Republicans, and the Freedom Caucus. More than [at] any time in history, the HFC has extraordinary power to negotiate a leadership arrangement that empowers all members, especially conservatives.”
By the end of the day, Biggs had announced on Newsmax that he would challenge Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for the speaker position, saying, “We have a new paradigm here.” A few weeks later, seven Freedom Caucus members sent a letter to their House colleagues laying out their demands for supporting any speaker candidate — the same list of rules changes and appointments that CPI leaders Corrigan, Mark Meadows, and Rachel Bovard had outlined at the Nov. 14 forum.
After a 15-ballot floor fight in January, McCarthy finally caved to the caucus and gave them pretty much everything they wanted in exchange for their support of him as speaker. In addition to gaining three coveted seats on the Rules Committee, the Freedom Caucus won a rule change allowing a single member to trigger the equivalent of a no-confidence vote that ousts the speaker and requires a majority vote to elect a new one.
The price of this deal has proven to be extraordinarily steep. The House Freedom Caucus’ leverage over McCarthy enabled them to bring the nation to the brink of default in May over increasing the debt ceiling and repeat their brinkmanship on the pending government shutdown on October 1. And, ultimately, it enabled Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) — who participated in the forum last November — and seven other hard-right members to bring down McCarthy for avoiding the government shutdown, and grind the House to a halt two days later.
The hard fact of the matter is that the House Freedom Caucus views itself as a third party. Their loyalty lies not with the Republican Party, but with a far-right ideology and CPI, the dark-money group led by former Trump insiders and insurrectionists that scripts, staffs, and trains caucus members.
Now Jordan, who helped found the caucus and serves as its vice chair, has made his move, and is working doggedly to flip the GOP members he needs to win a floor vote for speaker on Tuesday. If he wins, it will be a MAGA coup, and Congress will be at the mercy of a “legislative terrorist” who actively colluded with the Trump White House to overturn the 2020 election results and a cadre of extremists willing to blow up the government to achieve their goals.
The far more sensible path would be for the two major parties that actually care about responsible governance to strike a deal for the sake of the nation.