Fleming, Others Now Form House Freedom Caucus

A few weeks ago, when the effort to unseat John Boehner with a few haphazard Speaker candidacies in an effort to force a second ballot fell short of tangible results, in large measure because of members like Rep. Mick Mulvaney who refused to subject himself to Boehner’s retribution on the basis of a hopeless cause (something Mulvaney articulated in a letter to his constituents which received some national attention), I took to the pages of The American Spectator to denounce the lack of organization among conservatives in the House…

It is unquestionably a fact that there is no viable conservative candidate in the House who can best John Boehner in an election for Speaker. We know this because none has successfully done so. Perhaps someday — and hopefully that day will come soon — someone will emerge. But when three Republicans ran against Boehner and combined they still fell 11 votes short of denying him a second ballot (and one of the three, Webster, isn’t particularly conservative), we can say with safety there is no one from the conservative wing of the Republican caucus ready to mount a serious challenge.

Louie Gohmert is a staunch conservative and a faithful defender of the Constitution, but after announcing with much fanfare on the Sunday shows that he was running for Speaker it turns out he didn’t even work the phones to campaign. That meant his bid was a waste of time — and he actually hurt the conservative cause by leading himself and fellow Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma and Randy Weber of Texas, who voted for him, into a position to lose committee assignments and other positions of power in the House. That kind of retaliation has already come to Webster and fellow Floridian Rich Nugent (who voted for Webster); both were bounced from the House Rules Committee after the vote. More retribution is certain.

In a Hannity appearance on Fox News Tuesday night, Gohmert said the attempted coup was as late as this week without any candidates to force a second ballot, and the last-minute candidacies of himself, Yoho, and Webster developed because it was decided without an actual human being to run against Boehner the effort would fail.

Well, no kidding.

At this point it’s obvious — if conservatives want to get rid of Boehner they’re going to have to find a front man. They’re going to have to agree on someone who is a plausible conservative candidate for Speaker, and build a power base around that person. They’re going to have to actually organize some opposition to Boehner inside the party — within the House membership, and not via e-mail blast fundraisers or talk radio. If that’s possible through a formal outfit like the Republican Study Committee, great. If not, something more informal ought to be created for that purpose — and it needs to be done now, in preparation for a run at Boehner a year, or two years, from now. Not at the last minute.

And that’s where criticism of Mulvaney, and the other conservatives like him who voted for and against the Speaker, should come in.

Sure, you get credit for recognizing you don’t have the goods to beat Boehner and refusing to needlessly suffer the fate of Webster and Nugent in the absence of those goods. But if you think your obligation stops there, what are you worth to the rest of us?

Where is Mulvaney’s call for organizing a conservative power base? Where is his communiqué offering himself up as an option for future speakership, or pledging his support to some other conservative?

What’s being done to plan for Boehner’s succession — in 2017 or some other time — by a conservative?

All we have is a succession of half-baked and fully-doomed coup attempts making conservative voters, activists, and politicians look like fools.

This isn’t acceptable. The country and the party deserve better than John Boehner as Speaker; that much is certain. But the conservative movement deserves a whole lot better than gadflies and lone wolves who can’t even force a second ballot on a man 60 percent of Republican voters want to see replaced.

Rep. John Fleming, probably Louisiana’s most unabashed conservative member of the House, joined Mulvaney in voting for Boehner that day. But I had an interesting conversation with someone on Fleming’s staff after the AmSpec column ran, the upshot of which was that my column was correct and there was in fact an effort to build just such a structure in its nascent stages.

So today, it’s little surprise that Fleming put out a press release announcing the formation of the House Freedom Caucus – with Fleming, Mulvaney and a few other notables joining as initial members…

Members of the House Republican Conference have formed the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) to advance an agenda of limited, constitutional government in Congress. The HFC has adopted the following mission statement:

The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans.

The HFC’s founding members are Rep. Scott Garrett, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. John Fleming, Rep. Matt Salmon, Rep. Justin Amash, Rep. Raúl Labrador, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Mark Meadows.

Labrador, it might be remembered, put his name in the hat as a potential challenger to Boehner for Speaker two years ago. And Jordan is a former head of the Republican Study Committee who many have thought of as a potential future House Speaker.

Will the HFC be able to expand beyond its nine founding members into something of a majority? Will Jordan, Mulvaney, Fleming or Labrador – or someone else – emerge as an unquestioned leader able to build its brand as a power base from which a new House leadership can be crafted?

It’s too soon to tell. HFC is starting with a good group of conservatives, though. Perhaps this could become the kind of power base required if conservatives expect to assume leadership in the House.

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