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Freshmen Backed by Freedom Caucus Aren’t Committing to Joining

Caucus leaders expect some non-freshmen to help replenish their ranks

The political arm of the House Freedom Caucus backed Indiana Republican Jim Banks, but he has not yet decided to join the caucus if invited. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The political arm of the House Freedom Caucus backed Indiana Republican Jim Banks, but he has not yet decided to join the caucus if invited. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Freedom Caucus is currently down seven members from the 114th Congress — and possibly two more.

South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney is awaiting confirmation as President-elect Donald Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget.

And Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine is said to be under consideration for a position in the incoming administration.  

Five candidates endorsed by the caucus’ political arm, the House Freedom Fund, won in safe Republican districts last November. But not all of them have committed to join if invited. 

Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina isn’t concerned. He predicted the caucus’ numbers will be “plus or minus one of where we’ve been in the past,” once invitations are extended to members of the 115th Congress. The caucus does not publicize its membership, but there were believed to be about 40 members at the end of the 114th Congress.

The members who could replenish the caucus ranks won’t all be freshmen, Meadows said last Thursday. 

“There’s not necessarily direct correlation between our PAC support and caucus membership,” he said. 

The Freedom Fund ran TV ads for Indiana’s Jim Banks, then a state senator, in a competitive open primary to replace former Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a member of the Freedom Caucus who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for Senate. 

Banks said he hasn’t received an invitation yet. But he’s remained noncommittal on joining the caucus if he does get one. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” a spokeswoman for Banks said this week.

The 3rd District congressman, who hasn’t ruled out a bid for Senate in 2018, has already been named the freshman representative on the Republican Study Committee’s steering committee. 

The Freedom Fund also endorsed Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, who won a close recount in the 5th District to replace former Freedom Caucus member Matt Salmon, who retired at the end of the 114th Congress.

“We have no doubt that he will join the ranks of the House Freedom Caucus and fight for these timeless principles on which the nation was founded and the conservative values of Arizona’s 5th District,” the tea party-affiliated FreedomWorks PAC said in its endorsement of Biggs.

Asked about the congressman’s intentions of joining the caucus, a spokesman for Biggs said Monday there was “nothing to report at this time.”

In the late primary to replace Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, another caucus member who fell short in a Senate bid, the Freedom Fund backed state Rep. Mike Johnson, the eventual winner in the 4th District. Johnson’s office said Monday he had not yet been invited and didn’t have a definitive answer on whether he’d join if he were.

In the 17-person GOP primary for North Carolina’s newly drawn 13th District, the Freedom Fund backed Ted Budd, who won with 20 percent of the vote. His office did not respond to a request for comment about whether he’ll join if invited.

Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis, who won a competitive race in the 2nd District, said during the Republican primary that he’d join the caucus. But now that he’s in Congress, Lewis said he’s not planning to join any caucus. 

Members can only join by invitation. The caucus votes on whom they’d like to join their ranks and then extends official invitations. Meadows expects that vote to happen soon but wouldn’t specify the timing. Just as the caucus does not publicize its list of members, it will not publicize its invitees.

The Freedom Fund did not financially support Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett in his open-seat race for the 5th District — a second tier race that only attracted Republican spending, from groups such as the American Action Network, at the end of the campaign. But former Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio donated to his campaign, and if invited, Garrett does plan to join. 

In the caucus’ biggest symbolic coup of the cycle, Warren Davidson won a special election last June for former Speaker John A. Boehner’s 8th District seat in Ohio. He joined the Freedom Caucus when he got to Congress that month.

Besides Fleming, Salmon and Stutzman, five other Freedom Caucus members from the 114th Congress aren’t returning. Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp lost the primary for his 1st District seat to an establishment-backed Republican, but he’s already filed to run for his old seat in 2018.

New Jersey’s Scott Garrett lost his 5th District seat to Democrat Josh Gottheimer.

Florida’s Curt Clawson and Wyoming’s Cynthia Lummis, the only woman in the caucus, retired. Liz Cheney, who won Lummis’ seat, didn’t rule out joining the caucus during the campaign. But asked on Tuesday, Cheney said she will not be joining. 

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