The Freedom Caucus
Who are they, and what do they want?
Steven Strauss
volume:  
volume 38
issue 3
June 2017
imagestuff

March 23: Vice President Pence (center, speaking), President Trump (not shown in photo), and Freedom Caucus members talk about gutting healthcare. via Twitter

“We must fight them!” tweeted President Trump angrily on March 30. Who?

ISIS? The North Koreans?

Not this time. The target of this Trump tweet was the right-wing Freedom Caucus, a group of about thirty House Republicans who played a key role in the March 2017 defeat of his American Health Care Act, a bill which would have replaced Obama’s misnamed Affordable Care Act.

The Caucus opposed Trump’s bill because it didn’t go far enough in protecting the health insurance industry. It kept the inclusion of people with pre-existing illnesses, and still covered maternity care and preventative testing. So House Republicans added more odious measures to the bill and in May, Trump’s second try passed with Caucus approval.

Until the defeat of Trump’s first bill, most Americans had heard little if anything of the Freedom Caucus. But now the capitalist media is paying it more attention. Pundits are saying there is a divide in the Republican ranks. That Caucus Republicans are “captors” of the rest of the party. That they have the power to block Trump’s agenda.

But are they really that powerful? Just who are they anyway? Who’s really in charge?

Caucus origins. The Freedom Caucus was formed in January 2015 by nine particularly conservative Republican congressmen. Though they claim to support “open” government, their meetings are closed and their full membership list is kept secret.

But the Pew Research Center has identified them — all white men by the way. And, as Pew has shown, Caucus members score far to the right on a widely used measure of liberal vs. conservative politics.

More important than the liberal vs. conservative label is what these politicians actually stand for. They are for repealing workforce safety and environmental regulations, denying reproductive rights to women, slashing social services, and overflow-funding of the military.

Fearful of the working class, they preach that they are only trying to create jobs and a better standard of living. That’s a lie told by all apologists for the system. They are promoting their program for corporate America.

Where the clout comes from. When first formed in early 2015, during the Obama administration, the Freedom Caucus took up the issue of immigration across the Mexico-U.S. border. Caucus members opposed Obama’s plan for a limited form of amnesty. They demanded even greater immigration enforcement and wanted any border bill to defund sanctuary cities.

With the 2016 Republican electoral victory the Caucus acquired significant leverage. The invitation-only club correctly calculated that if it had about thirty members who were sworn to vote as a bloc, it could push fellow Republicans to the right by threatening to otherwise not support their non-Caucus legislation.

That’s precisely how they blocked Trump’s first healthcare bill.

Freedom Caucus agenda. Exploiting its current power, the Caucus is aggressively pushing its program. It opposes Trump’s Mexico-U.S. border plan, but only because it wants Trump to commit himself to paying for the $15 billion wall with deep cuts elsewhere. The group’s members are on record for targeting funds for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They are adamant that “any appropriations bills do not contain funding for Planned Parenthood.”

These thirty House politicians want to repeal the federal Silica Rule, which protects workers from breathing silica dust. They want to abolish the federal law which requires tracking workplace injuries.

Caucus co-founder Mark Meadows of North Carolina opposes public funding for abortions. While this hardly distinguishes him from the average Republican, he also cosponsored H.R.816/S.2464, a bill which would extend the 14th Amendment equal protection clause to every “preborn human person.”

Co-founder Jim Jordan of Ohio got a 100 percent approval rating from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an anti-union outfit. He has voted to defund the National Labor Relations Board, prohibit collective bargaining at the Transportation Security Administration, and forbid employees of the Federal Aviation Administration from using any part of the workday for union activities.

And South Carolina co-founder Mick Mulvaney quipped that “The only way to get truly universal care is to throw people in jail if they don’t have it.”

The emperor’s new clothes. The Caucus’s politics sound virtually identical to Trump’s campaign. So why all the fuss? Because recently Trump has been receding somewhat from his previous rhetoric. And that’s because the big corporations are getting to him.

An April 14, 2017 Wall Street Journal article made it crystal clear that CEOs from major corporations have told Trump in no uncertain terms to back off on Mexico, China, and NATO. Whistling a different tune, Trump now says, “We’re doing very nicely with Mexico,” that China is no longer “manipulating its currency,” and that NATO is no longer “obsolete.”

Candidate Trump insisted he’d stay out of Syria. Now he has launched $60 million dollars’ worth of cruise missiles at the country. He insisted that Mexico would pay for a separation wall along its U.S. border, but now is looking to Congress to help fund it. He is now willing to renegotiate the NAFTA trade agreement instead of abandoning it altogether. And he is courting the Chinese government in an alliance against North Korea.

But whereas Trump is modifying his positions to satisfy Wall Street, the right-wing guys in the House are sticking to the line Trump himself propagated during the campaign. They just want him to be who he said he was.

Yet Trump is hardly shunning the Freedom Caucus. Politically, they are close. His budget director, for example, is Caucus founding member Mick Mulvaney.

So who’s in charge? Perhaps the real political difference between the President and the Caucus is that the corporate world is leaning on Trump, pressuring him to not sabotage their years of global investments, treaties, and imperialist planning. This has left a small group of Caucus ideologues still agitating for the domestic program he ran on as presidential candidate — a program which the ruling class as a whole is presently unwilling to fight for.

Trump the individual may be president, and the Freedom Caucus may have some clout, but it’s the ruling capitalist class who’s really in power. And doesn’t that mean that the mission of the resistance movements needs to broaden out to anti-capitalist offensives?

Send feedback to the author at: fspbaltimore@hotmail.com.