The Freedom Caucus: A look at the group that brought down GOP health care plan

PHOTO: House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., center, whose conservative faction of the GOP bucked the Republican health care bill, heads to caucus meeting in the basement of the Capitol, in Washington, March 24, 2017. PlayJ. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
WATCH Freedom Caucus chair says 'no conversation' about replacing Speaker Ryan

The House Freedom Caucus raised its profile dramatically last week during the debate to repeal and replace Obamacare, becoming not only antagonists to President Trump but also unlikely saviors – even if unintended -- to Democrats working to preserve Obamacare.

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The intrigue surrounding this powerful band of conservatives continues to grow. By taking a hard, unified stance against the American Health Care Act, a position that ultimately helped sink the GOP’s health care repeal and replace plan, members of the House Freedom Caucus demonstrated the unity to steer the House GOP leadership off its course while scoring their its legislative victory.

How did the caucus form?

The caucus was officially founded by conservatives in 2015 at the House Republican retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and is chaired by Rep. Mark Meadows, a third-term Republican from North Carolina.

After former Rep. Mick Mulvaney lost to Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, in a race for chairman of the Republican Study Committee, and Rep. Raul Labrador’s bid for majority leader fell short, some conservatives felt unrepresented and frustrated with their lack of sway on Capitol Hill, sources say, leading to a discussion about maximizing their influence as a block of conservative voters.

Before Trump charged that the caucus sided with Democrats to save the Affordable Care Act, its most notable achievement was not legislative, but gained by its role ousting John Boehner from his speakership in September 2015.

Who are the members?

So who are they? The caucus does not publicize its full, invite-only membership, although up to 40 conservatives pay dues, according to congressional sources. Most of its known members are tea party-types, elected after Barack Obama took office in 2009, although the caucus is spread across the ideological spectrum. Lawmakers pay $5,000 to become a member and $10,000 to be on the HFC board of directors.

Beyond Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., were all founding members and still serve in the House of Representatives.

Jordan was the caucus’ first chairman. Mulvaney, another original founder, now serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget. The caucus employs only four congressional staffers and is also mirrored on the political side by Jordan’s House Freedom Fund PAC, which fundraises for conservative candidates.

While Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, often meet with and wield significant influence over the caucus, the membership is not bicameral and there is no Senate Freedom Caucus.

What is its mandate?

House conservatives say the caucus represents ordinary people who believe Washington has forgotten about them. By banding together to influence legislation as a group, the lawmakers feel better empowered to deliver on conservative campaign promises that sometimes fall out of the legislative agenda of the House elected leadership.

Sources insist members must be willing to vote yes and also willing to vote no, unafraid to buck leadership. They want a bottom-up structure where junior members have the ability to offer amendments and legislate through regular order.

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