Last month, when President Donald Trump declared that he was willing to risk a partial government shutdown to secure funding for a wall located in the southern United States, most observers scratched themselves off the head. Closures cause significant economic and social disruption, and incentives to do so generally lose favor with voters.
Yet Trump ignored the warnings from Senate Chief Mitch McConnell and other party leaders. He refused to sign an expenditure bill that passed the Senate and was ready for a vote in the House led by the GOP, and even offered to take full responsibility for a shutdown. As a result, we are now in the middle of the longest government shutdown in American history.
That Trump attaches such importance to the construction of a border wall is not a surprise. It was a centerpiece of his presidential campaign and he thought that not building it would seriously undermine his position among his main supporters. who wants one. But why would Trump think that the best way to get what he wants is to refuse to sign financing bills without money for a wall?
The answer probably lies with the House Freedom Caucus, an organized group of conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives. The caucus has argued for closure – which reflects the type of tactics the group has used in the past – and has developed key links with Trump that allow its members to shape the president's strategic decisions.
What is the Freedom Caucus of the House?
The Freedom Caucus was formed in early 2015 by several Conservatives of the House frustrated by their lack of influence and political compromises between GOP leaders and President Obama. The group quickly counted more than 30 members, and although this was not enough to pass the desired bills in the House, the caucus was large enough and unified to be a pivotal block for very partisan votes.
As I show in my next caucus bookThis allowed the group to credibly threaten the defeat of the legislation they hated and to force the GOP leaders to allow the vote on the proposals they wanted. During its first two years of existence, the Freedom Caucus recorded an impressive 83% success rate when it attempted to block bills or force voting on bills, amendments or procedural motions.
The freedom caucus also took credit for the early retirement of President John Boehnerwhose propensity for compromise and punishment of the most rebel members of the group had shaken the Conservatives. Although the role of the caucus in Boehner's early departure was in some ways overestimated, it nonetheless helped to strengthen the image of the Freedom Caucus as a powerful group that could cause serious headaches for party leaders. non-compliant.
The closure reflects the uncompromising tactics of the Freedom Caucus
During its first two years, the Freedom Caucus has earned a reputation for using threats and other uncompromising tactics with Republican leaders and the Obama White House to get what they want. ;he wanted. That included, in 2015, the threat of sinking credit bills – thereby shutting down the federal government – if they contained funds for Planned Parenthood. The group moderated its approach to some extent after the Trump election, but not entirely; for example, in November 2017, threatened to kill a ground ruler when the GOP leaders tried to change the funding mechanism of the child health insurance program.
The freedom caucus tends to use threats and other aggressive legislative tactics on issues about which its members have strong preferences. Illegal immigration is one of them. In fact, the group has for the first time successfully used hardball legislation on a border security bill. Not surprisingly, the Freedom Caucus was one of the biggest advocates of the closure strategy to get money for a border wall. And while the President was to sign a GOP spending bill without money for a wall, the representative of Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) and other caucus members an aggressive campaign to oppose the bill speech on the ground, social media and appearances on Fox News.
It should also be noted that the caucus has frequently endorsed congressional assertive tactics as a way to show voters that they are struggling tirelessly to keep their election promises. Its members used the same reasoning to argue in favor of the current judgment. Former caucus chair, Jim Jordan (R-OH), told the White House that he should insist that congressional Republicans fund a border wall "Because they told voters that they would do it" while Meadows lamented on the floor of the house that too many politicians "forget what they promised to the American people".
The freedom caucus at the white house ear
Freedom caucus members have not only publicly emphasized some of the White House's strategies. One of the caucuses' important but underestimated tactics is to build relationships with sympathetic political actors in positions of power. These links allow the group to exert much more influence than it could because of its small size.
The Trump election gave the caucus a unique opportunity in this regard. Trump, a prominent Republican and novice politician, lacked political experience and a network of party professionals in which he could draw to lead the White House or give advice. The freedom caucus filled the void. Some of its members have been Trump's biggest public defenders, but many of them have gone into executive power or have developed personal relationships that allow them to advise the president informally.
Meadows, for example, has regularly defended the president on national television, and he would speak regularly with Trump. His relationship with the president is so narrow that he was briefly considered John Kelly's replacement as chief of staff of the White House.
Although Meadows was not chosen, another Freedom Caucus co-founder, former representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), placed a caucus ally in a particularly powerful position to advise the president on political strategy. As Chief of Staff, Mulvaney can also be a vital conduit for Freedom Caucus members who want access to the White House. In fact, when he was director of Trump's office of management and budget, Mulvaney met with caucus members more often than Republican Party leaders in Congress.
These personal and professional relationships gave the Freedom Caucus an additional way to shape the presidential decision-making process. When Trump was to sign a GOP spending bill without any additional funding, Meadows called Trump directly and asked him to challenge Republican congressional leaders by letting the government shut down. Later, when Trump threatened to declare the national state of emergency and build the wall without congressional cooperation, he withdrew after several members of the freedom caucus expressed their opposition.
Closing could make caucus more influential … or less
Trump's membership of government closures as a bargaining tactic suggests that the influence of the House Caucus for Freedom is greater than ever before. And if that ends up generating funds for a border wall, the president's esteem for the caucus will probably grow. But if the closing of the current record lasts too long or ends in defeat for the president, the group may have trouble retaining this influence.
In fact, there are already signs of disagreement between Trump and the Freedom Caucus on how to resolve the stalemate. Although presidents are routinely tempted to exercise their power unilaterally, the Freedom Caucus, a limited and congressionally focused government, has traditionally opposed the granting of a power of attorney. increased power to the executive branch. Trump agreed with the caucus members who urged him not to try to build the wall via an emergency statement, but he might find it too tempting to refrain from expanding his executive authority to build its long-sought-after border wall.
Another related possibility is that Trump simply decides to go to bed or is forced to do so by other congressional Republicans, with the partial halt continuing to damage his image and the GOP brand. Some initial inquiries already suggest that the closure has damaged the reputation of the party and the White House. If Trump later accused the caucus of recommending this strategy, it could further damage the group's position in the White House.
But no matter how the closure of the government ends, the fact that we have one is testament to the disproportionate influence of the western wing of the House caucus for freedom.