The punishment from GOP leadership over a procedural vote didn’t start with Mark Meadows — and it might not end with him either.
The two-term North Carolina Republican is the latest conservative to face retribution for voting on June 11 against the rule to bring trade legislation to the House floor, joining 33 other Republicans in a major sign of defiance that embarrassed leadership. First, three conservatives — Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming — were booted from the whip team. Now, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah has taken Meadows’ Government Operations Subcommittee gavel.
Leaders may have thought making an example out of Meadows — perhaps the most mild-mannered member of the bomb-throwing House Freedom Caucus — was the best of any number of noisy, conference-shaking options.
But in a half-hour sit-down interview with CQ Roll Call Monday morning, Meadows made it clear he wasn’t going quietly.
He's taking his moment in the spotlight to tell multiple news organizations something has to change — and it could start with Speaker John A. Boehner and his lieutenants.
“There is a culture of fear and retribution that is prevalent here on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said. “It encourages people to vote certain ways, it encourages people not to speak out.”
Over the weekend, Meadows was officially stripped of his chairmanship, a decision Chaffetz said was two-fold: One, Meadows voted against the trade rule; two, he has refused to pay dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee since an outside group with leadership ties started running ads against him in his district.
Chaffetz has publicly taken sole responsibility for the decision, though Meadows told CQ Roll Call he suspected there was more to it than that.
Meadows, who said up to this point he's "kept [his] mouth shut because that's what you do," said since his vote against Boehner for speaker at the start of the 114th Congress, he’s had a target on his back. First, he was told he could no longer participate in congressional travel and then he was forced to remove his name from a Hezbollah sanctions bill in order to get it to the floor.
Meadows suggested it “defies logic” to insist Chaffetz made the call in a vacuum, saying there was some indication the Utah Republican consulted with leadership and members of the Steering and Policy Committee. A GOP leadership aide denied the insinuation. “The Steering Committee has no authority over subcommittee gavels and played no role in Chairman Chaffetz’s decision. In fact the committee hasn’t met in well over a month," the aide said.
But if Meadows’ demotion was entirely Chaffetz’s decision, and it was solely over the rule vote and his failure to pay NRCC dues, then why is House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan still a subcommittee chairman on the Oversight Committee?
Jordan voted against the rule and, like Meadows, hasn’t kicked funds to the NRCC, a source familiar with NRCC contributions told CQ Roll Call.
The only superficial difference between the two is that Meadows voted against Boehner to be speaker and Jordan supported his fellow Ohio Republican.
The biggest difference between the two is in the ramifications for leadership. It’s one thing to demote the amiable Meadows. It’s another to take away the gavel of the HFC chairman who also once helmed the Republican Study Committee — and who also might be the conservative candidate in an upcoming speaker election.
Going after Jordan — making him a conservative martyr — could elevate him. Jordan was emphatic on "The Laura Ingraham Show" Monday that what happened to Meadows was wrong.
Either way, Meadows suggested there isn’t yet a revolt brewing against Boehner and the rest of the leadership team directly. “It’s not as much about changing leadership as it is changing what leadership does,” he said.
The HFC held a conference call Sunday night to discuss the Meadows issue, and another one is scheduled for Monday night, in addition to an in-person meeting set for Tuesday.
Freedom Caucus member Mo Brooks, R-Ala., told CQ Roll Call, “the attack on Mark Meadows, designed to coerce him and others to turn their votes over to congressmen from, and the citizens of, Ohio, California and Louisiana … risks a major conflict that is the best interests of all GOP members to avoid.”
Brooks was referring to the home states of Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
As far as leadership is concerned, members were warned.
Boehner told the conference last week behind closed doors he wasn’t happy and he expected Republicans to work together as a team. At the same time, Scalise was quietly moving to boot Freedom Caucus members Franks, Pearce and Lummis from his whip team.
While all three expressed an understanding of leadership’s actions, there was also acknowledgement that cooperation between conservatives and leadership will suffer.
There are now no HFC members serving as deputy whips, no members sitting at both the whip team meeting before the first votes of the week and the HFC meeting after first votes of the week. As Franks told CQ Roll Call last week, “there’s a polarization taking place.”
Meadows said Chaffetz gave him the choice of resigning or being fired, with Meadows saying he would step down “quietly” only if Franks, Pearce and Lummis were reinstated to the whip team. That request was not granted.
In the meantime, Meadows said his removal of power was a “badge of honor” in his pursuit of serving his constituents.
“If I’m willing to give my voting card to Speaker Boehner and continue to give money so he can dole it out to other people, to really buy allegiance to the leadership team, then I will get a few benefits, a few crumbs that get thrown my way,” he said. “Well, that’s an illusion of having power when you never had it in the first place."
Correction 9:45 p.m. An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Republicans who voted against the rule on trade legislation on June 11.
Rule Vote Retribution Continues; Chaffetz Takes Away Subcommittee Gavel Trade Rule Passes Despite Conservative Mutiny See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.