Meadows says he’s optimistic, noting that, in his discussions with Team Trump, the idea of reining in federal agencies has been “met with receptivity.” Admittedly, “most of those conversations were before November 8th,” he said. “But generally speaking, they’ve been real willing to look at making the executive branch have the appropriate authority and balance as it relates to Congress.”
Now, wading into the weeds of regulatory policy—or, really, any policy—is hardly what the Freedom Caucus is known for. Meadows wants to change that. Recognizing the group’s need for a new m.o., he has big plans to shift its focus from ideological warfare to policy promotion.
To this end, the caucus is in the midst of interviewing for one—possibly two—“top notch” policy people, Meadows told me. “We want someone who can not only draft policy but also help us understand how to work in a bicameral way” to gain support for issues in the Senate.
Meadows is also tapping a handful of his wonkier members to drive weekly policy discussions. “Every week we’ll come up with a piece of legislation—and it doesn’t have to be Freedom Caucus driven,” he insisted. “My internal goal is to be promoting between 10 and 12 Freedom Caucus initiatives and 8 to 10 pieces of legislation led either by conservative Democrats or by the more moderate members within the GOP conference.”
There are, to be sure, plenty of potential flashpoints on the policy horizon. Budget deficits have been a key concern for the Freedom Caucus, and Meadows acknowledges that the president-elect’s talk of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan poses a challenge. But in such cases, members cannot fall back on “just saying no,” insisted Meadows. Instead, they need to “put on [their] thinking caps” and bust their humps to find “a conservative way to actually pay for the additional infrastructure without just adding to the national debt.” (The congressman is happy to talk specifics with anyone interested.)
Reforming entitlements promises to be another hot issue. On the trail, Trump vowed not to cut benefits or raise the eligibility age for either Medicare or Social Security. Even so, some key members of his Social-Security transition team, along with his newly named budget chief (Freedom Caucus co-founder Mick Mulvaney) are outspoken fans of reduced benefits and/or privatization, indicating that President Trump may be more open than candidate Trump to messing with the system. The Freedom Caucus certainly hopes so, and plans to push early and often for an overhaul. “We will introduce in the first 30 days legislation to at least get the debate started,” said Meadows.
The new chairman laughed when I suggested he’s aiming to create a kinder, gentler Freedom Caucus. His vision for the group is “a shift,” he allowed—and one that is not without risk. For starters, being reasonable and policy oriented and open to compromise is a great way to get ignored in politics. After all, what shot the caucus to fame and influence was its mad-dog style—one that its angry, fed-up supporters embraced as proof of the group’s authenticity.
“Is there potential fallout from some constituents who support us saying, ‘Meadows is soft’?” said the congressman. “Sure.”
But, as he sees it, the risks of not evolving are higher. “People are tired of excuses,” he told me. “It is incumbent upon us to find ways to get things done.”