Freedom Caucus chair: Border funding can wait to avoid shutdown

Rep. Mark Meadows joined ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast this week.

ByABC News
August 29, 2017, 4:35 PM

— -- The chair of the influential House Freedom Caucus said that he and many of his group's members want to avert a government shutdown this fall, even if no money is included for a proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall -- a position seemingly at odds with that of President Donald Trump.

"In talking to a number of my members, if there was a vote for a continuing resolution next week that did not include border wall funding, the majority of those members would be supportive of that," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast.

Last week, at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump suggested that he would allow a shutdown to occur if Congress does not include appropriations for his signature campaign promise as part of a funding measure.

"Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we're building that wall," said Trump.

But Meadows said he prefers a solution where government funding will continue through the rest of 2017, with a possible shutdown showdown involving the border wall not coming until December or January. He cited, in part, the need to keep government operations running in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

"Next week, in September, we are encouraging our leadership to go ahead and put a bill on the House floor and let us vote for that,” Meadows said. “Most of the conservatives that I talked to are willing to ... vote for a continuing resolution that just basically would not have wall funding in it -- would continue the current stream of money that keeps the government operational while we work through and negotiate on the appropriations bill.”

While Meadows and other conservatives, including Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, voted against disaster relief packages after Hurricane Sandy slammed the Northeast in 2012, the North Carolina congressman said that those positions were in opposition to what those members considered to be unnecessary spending included in the legislation. He offered his support for Harvey relief after Congress can gauge the "full amount of the damage" in the Gulf Coast.

"When we have disaster relief a lot of times it becomes a vehicle for special spending," he said, adding, "As long as we keep the emergency relief really to support the people in need, whether they be in New York or Texas, I think you'll find plenty of conservative support and certainly my support."

The Trump administration has also come out in favor of a so-called “clean” lifting of the debt ceiling -- one that’s not tied to other conditions or critical legislation. On that, too, Meadows staked out a position that’s contrary to that of the president.

"A clean debt ceiling is not something that I support," he said. "We've got a fiscal crisis on our hands. We've got out-of-control spending, and yet we continue to raise the debt ceiling over and over again without any thought of how it is going to be paid back."

"It's like maxing out a credit card, going back to the bank and saying, 'Give me a higher limit, but I'm not going to change my spending habits.'"

Meadows and his fellow Freedom Caucus members have been willing to clash with GOP leadership in the past. Some in the group notably withheld their support of early drafts of a House health care reform bill as they pushed for changes to essential health benefit requirements.

The caucus chair did not shy away from criticizing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when asked about Ryan's public disagreement with Trump over the pardon of controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. A spokesman for Ryan said Saturday that he did not agree with Trump's decision and that "we should not allow anyone to believe [law enforcement's responsibility to the public] is diminished by this pardon."

"I disagree with the speaker's position on this. I support the president in that position," said Meadows. "The sheriff was trying to deal with [illegal immigration] in the best way we can and we had one federal judge who put their stamp of what was right and wrong on it, and so I support the president in it.

"I don't know that the speaker should've weighed in on that particular position," he added.

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