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McConnell Builds Ties With Freedom Caucus

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with House Freedom Caucus leaders Tuesday in their first formal sit down, a sign that the Kentucky Republican is interested in quelling criticisms of his leadership on both sides of the Capitol.  

"There has not been a lack of criticism, let’s put it that way," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said of the conservative caucus' frustrations with McConnell for various deals he and Senate Republicans have cut with Democrats. Tuesday's conversation focused on the decision to delay a Supreme Court appointment.  

Meadows is one of nine House Freedom Caucus board members. McConnell called a meeting with the board after having reached out to a few of them during the joint Republican retreat in Baltimore last month, Meadows said.  

“I think it’s a good time to have an open dialogue in a bicameral way," Meadows added, explaining that the meeting was about "making sure that we understand each other’s heart and agenda, and I think we have a better understanding from both perspectives on that.”  

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said a follow up meeting has not been scheduled, but he expects there may be future meetings. “I think we left with the understanding that this was good and we should do it more often," he said.  

McConnell's office did not return Roll Call's request for comment.  

The majority of the meeting, according to Meadows and Labrador, was spent discussing the Supreme Court vacancy and how the Senate plans to ignore any nomination President Obama makes this year.  

"Leader McConnell has indicated he’s going to hold the line and continue to make sure that it’s the next president whose nominee gets confirmed in the Senate," Meadows said. "It was reassuring, a message that honestly I’m going to take back to my grass roots supporters to let them know that he’s heard the message and that he is standing with them.  

"They really believe that to confirm someone who is nominated this late in the process is not the best thing, at least in my district."  

Meadows commended McConnell for his "bold stance" on the issue given that it could have some negative ramifications.  

“This is one [where] he doesn’t need votes," he said. "It’s a leadership decision he can make. And so given an opportunity for him to stand firm, not needing to broker a deal, he’s to be applauded for doing that.”  

The upcoming budget and appropriations process was not a topic of conversation, the Freedom Caucus members said, nor was the idea of changing the Senate filibuster rules to make it easier for the majority to advance legislation, or at least harder for the minority party to block it.  

Several House Freedom Caucus members have suggested that the rules should, at a minimum, be changed to require members seeking to block a measure to hold the floor under a talking filibuster.  

One topic that emerged was campaign finance, an area on which McConnell and conservatives have typically diverged.  

During discussions last year over the omnibus spending bill, House Freedom Caucus members offered several conditions under which they could vote for the bill; one of those was excluding a McConnell proposal to relax limits on coordination between political parties and candidates. That provision was left out, but so too were many of the Freedom Caucus's asks, and they voted against the bill.  

Meadows said the discussion on campaign finance did not focus on any specific proposals. "It was really more about just trying to follow up on a conversation that apparently a couple of members had had ... trying to clarify any misunderstandings that might have been out there," he said.  

If McConnell's goal was to begin a relationship with the Freedom Caucus leaders, it seems like he built a foundation for that.  

"I found that he was much easier to talk with then I could ever imagine," Meadows said. "For a guy that's one of the most powerful guys in Washington, D.C., he certainly came in with a gentle, humble spirit."  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.  Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson

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