The House Freedom Caucus has a secret it wants to share with Democrats.
“If the Democrats were to file a motion to vacate the chair and were to vote for that motion unanimously, there probably are 218 votes for it to succeed,” one member of the House Freedom Caucus told CQ Roll Call Tuesday night, as he exited an meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast.
If that’s true, Democrats could certainly use a vote to remove Speaker John A. Boehner as leverage in any number of upcoming battles: the Export-Import Bank, a highway bill, all sorts of spending measures. But absent any real talk from Democrats, the official response from Boehner’s communications director, Kevin Smith, was simply to dismiss CQ Roll Call’s reporter.
“Matt Fuller is a prop for Freedom Caucus propaganda,” Smith wrote via email.
While the HFC member in question wouldn’t say whether a vote to take Boehner’s gavel was part of the discussion Tuesday — and other members said it was not — it’s clear the decision to strip North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows of his subcommittee chairmanship has stirred the already excitable Freedom Caucus into a new frenzy.
The HFC looks ready for war, as does GOP leadership and more moderate Republicans who are sick and tired of conservatives voting against the team — and that could signal more retaliation to come from both sides.
Rep. Jim Jordan, the HFC chairman, and Raúl R. Labrador, one of the founding members of the secretive conservative group, had plenty to say to CQ Roll Call Wednesday about leadership’s recent moves against members who voted against the rule for Trade Promotion Authority.
“The reason this is happening is pretty clear,” Labrador said of Meadows’ demotion and the dismissal of other HFC members from the whip team. “The leadership is afraid.”
Labrador said GOP leaders sense their influence slipping, as 34 Republicans defied Boehner and others on the TPA rule. “And they know that that 34 is really not 34,” Labrador said. “They know that that number is really much larger.”
That may be true, with HFC membership now up to around 40 — according to Jordan’s best estimate, because he said he didn’t have the classified roster in front of him.
There’s been some discrepancy in reports on the size of the caucus — The Daily Caller put its total at 70. The Hill says it’s between 50 and 60 — but that’s due in part to group’s own obsessive secrecy about its rules and membership. And, for the record, it takes a four-fifths majority to reach an official position, according to members.