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Conservatives Announce New Group That Could Rival RSC — Or Not (Updated)

From left, Labrador, Jordan, Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Massie confer during the House speaker vote on Jan. 6. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated, 10:23 a.m. | Conservatives announced Monday morning the formation of a new group, the House Freedom Caucus. But with only nine members to start, it's unclear what such a caucus will mean for another conservative group: the Republican Study Committee.  

Instead of a grand news conference, members opted for a quiet press release, announcing the "HFC" before lawmakers even got back to the Capitol. The release said the group — which includes Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Jim Jordan of Ohio, John Fleming of Louisiana, Matt Salmon of Arizona, Justin Amash of Michigan, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Mark Meadows of North Carolina — would have an agenda of "limited, constitutional government in Congress." The group also announced its mission statement, saying the House Freedom Caucus would give "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 mission statement continued.  

Some members involved in the formation of the splinter group  contend it will be in direct competition with, and in direct response to, the RSC, which many conservative lawmakers believe has become too large and too cozy with GOP leadership.  

Still, there are some members who aren't quite ready to forsake the RSC.  

"There's no splinter group," Labrador told CQ Roll Call. He didn't mean there was no group at all. Quite the contrary. Labrador has been a key organizer of the new caucus. He just doesn't quite see it as the RSC rival many believed it would be.  

In that regard at least, Labrador and freshly elected RSC Chairman Bill Flores seem to agree.  

"If a complementary group forms, it'll be fine," Flores told CQ Roll Call recently. "The folks that I've talked to that are thinking about forming a group, most of them want to remain as RSC members."  

The Texas Republican went even further, telling CQ Roll Call that the RSC would end up "a stronger force in the conference moving forward."  

The RSC and its roughly 170 members wouldn't be stronger just by being smaller, he acknowledged. But he also insists his group will not be weakened if its numbers shrink. "We have kind of a sweet spot right now," he said.  

As for the possibility that Republicans could renounce their RSC membership in favor of this new group, Flores said Republicans like Jordan, Labrador and Mulvaney had already signed up to be RSC members for the 114th Congress, "So they'd have trouble renouncing, I think," he said.  

In a separate interview following the news that some members were looking at starting a new conservative group , Flores told CQ Roll Call that the RSC was the "largest, most effective conservative caucus in Congress." And he said it made sense for members to stay in the RSC because that's where they'd have the most traction in pushing for a conservative agenda.  

"The RSC is a home for all conservatives," he said, dismissing concerns that the group is drifting to the middle. If you look at the agenda for the 114th Congress, Flores continued, "you can't get much more to the right than it already is."  

Some members disagree. As soon as Flores was elected RSC chairman, it was Labrador who claimed GOP leadership was "twisting arms" to secure the votes for Flores  something Flores contended was false.  

And many of the members involved in the new coterie supported an RSC candidate other than Flores, who ran for the chairmanship on a more conciliatory tone and said he'd like to minimize RSC differences with GOP leadership  — or, at least, not flaunt them in public .  

To this early point in the 114th Congress, Flores has lived up to that pledge. When Speaker John A. Boehner kicked Florida Republicans Daniel Webster and Richard Nugent off the Rules Committee for voting Webster for speaker, Flores refused to publicly denounce the move — something one member mentioned as proof that the RSC wasn't the flamethrower group it used to be.  

That sort of refusal to publicly push GOP leadership has some members believing a new conservative group might be healthy.  

It's just unclear what that group will look like.  

Members involved in the discussions of the new group have been tight-lipped.  

Whether members will have to renounce their RSC membership, what kind of staff the group will have, what sort of dues members pay, "what our mission is, what our goal is," who the chairman will be, whether they will vote on a chairman, whether they will even have a chairman, are questions still to be determined, Jordan.  

One of the biggest unanswered questions is just how large the group would be. "Probably less than 247. How's that?" Jordan joked with CQ Roll Call, referring to the overall size of the Republican House Conference. But with just nine original members in the ranks, it's clear the group is not the mass RSC exodus that some conservatives seemed to be hoping for.  

Still, more than 30 lawmakers are expected to attend a meeting Monday night to discuss group bylaws. according to some news reports. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who left the RSC roughly a year ago over concerns about its size and politics, said the ideal enrollment would be between 40 to 60 members. Massie, who is not a founder of the group but told CQ Roll Call he would probably join, also said he wouldn't mind if the new group didn't have a chairman, much like the Liberty Caucus, which is technically chaired by Justin Amash of Michigan, but which Massie called "a benevolent dictatorship."  

Other members involved in the formation of the group have said they want to distinguish themselves from the Liberty Caucus, though it's clear there will be some crossover in membership between the soon-to-be-announced group and Amash's caucus, a libertarian-leaning collective of more than 30 members established in 2011.  

How much crossover the new caucus will have with the RSC — and whether any will be allowed — might determine the real spirit of the group. Already, some members are questioning just how conservative the new group will be.The member noted that among the main organizers — Jordan, Labrador, Mulvaney and Salmon — all voted for Boehner for speaker this year. Only three of the founders — Garrett, Amash and Meadows — voted against him.  

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