We currently have divided control of Washington and a narrow Republican majority in the House; it will be hard for McCarthy to work with the Democrats even if he wanted to. So it’s no secret that the most significant actions the House will take will likely be to block what Democrats want on issues like the debt ceiling and conduct investigations.
And the new Republican committee assignments have empowered the far right to steer the ship on both fronts. These positions have also given the Freedom Caucus and its allies a lot of power to prevent even the most moderate Republicans from taking over.
While there is no official membership list for the House Freedom Caucus, they comprise about one-fifth of the 222-member Republican conference.
But on committees that are likely to make headlines by conducting investigations and overseeing the Biden administration, their involvement is far greater:
- On the House Oversight Committee, the committee that led the investigation of the Obama administration for the past decade, 38 percent of Republican Party members are in the Freedom Caucus.
- On both the House Judiciary Committee and the newly created coronavirus select subcommittee, they comprise 44 percent of the committee.
- And in the newly created select subcommittee on the “weaponization of the federal government,” which will investigate alleged abuses of federal authority, including with respect to private sector companies, they represent half (50 percent) of the 12 Republican members of the committee.
Their hearings are likely to be broadcast publicly for the next two years, and the Freedom Caucus’ representation on these committees is roughly double what it is in the House as a whole. And that means these members will be the Republicans many Americans will be most familiar with.
The Freedom Caucus was also overrepresented on the Judiciary and Oversight committees of the last Congress. (An aide to former speaker Paul D. Ryan recently said that Supervision under Ryan was treated as “a dump for our less serious members.”) further Added to the Oversight panel were Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.).
And the two newly created panels, whose members McCarthy announced on tuesdayhave an even deeper bank of Freedom Caucus members.
Perhaps even more significant is what McCarthy delivered in the Rules Committee, which is effectively in charge of what makes it to the full House. Therefore, it is generally considered the most powerful committee and is almost always packed with members loyal to the speaker.
But what we see now is far from that.
Only two of the nine Republican members on the committee are in the Freedom Caucus. But both—Rep. Ralph Norman (RS.C.) and Chip Roy (R-Tex.)—initially voted against McCarthy as speaker (which most Freedom Caucus members never did). And that duo doesn’t include Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who isn’t in the Freedom Caucus but is generally one of the biggest thorns in the side of Republican leadership.
In fact, Massie is already talking about forming a bloc with the two Freedom Caucus members. (He insists that he is not there to obstruct legislation, but to force McCarthy to keep his promises.)
Because the committee has 13 members, it serves McCarthy well to have seven reliable votes on his side. But he has clearly given away that kind of majority.
A block that includes Massie could effectively thwart what the other six Republicans want to do, if combined with the four Democrats on the panel. As it stands, if the three-member bloc votes against McCarthy’s side on an issue, it would have to get at least one Democratic vote to flip it.
And that would be a recipe for another clash between McCarthy and a hard right that only approved of making him a speaker earlier this month. (The Freedom Caucus also won a concession on house rules, allowing only one member to force a vote to remove McCarthy as chairman.)
What are the implications of having these members front and center? The Freedom Caucus membership is significantly to the right of the rest of the GOP conference, according to DW-NOMINATE scores, and included every one of the 10 members who were on the far right of the entire House in the 117th Congress. .
It is also 90 percent made up of members who voted against accepting the 2020 election results. Some of its members have promoted unsubstantiated and false conspiracy theories about not just the election, but things like QAnon. Democrats and a handful of Republicans removed Greene and Gosar from their committees in the last Congress after both promoted the idea of violence against Democrats.
And in some cases, conspiracy theories are in the very business that their committees will deal with. Shortly before being named to the coronavirus select subcommittee, Greene in recent weeks speculated unsubstantiated about the collapse of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin and the death of “Diamond” of Diamond and Silk in some way related to the vaccine.
Greene celebrated his position on the panel Tuesday by saying he would push the “truth” about vaccines. He will now have a much larger platform from which to promote his own distinct version of the “truth” and how to find it, just like many of his more extreme Freedom Caucus contemporaries.