Standing in stilettos with a gun holstered on her thigh, Rep. Lauren Boebert explained to the 200 gathered on the concrete floor of a horse auction house in West Virginia the difference between Freedom Caucus members and other lawmakers.
“Sometimes a $5,000 check from a lobbyist and a committee position seat from leadership gets people just to sit down and be quiet,” the Colorado Republican said in Kearneysville last week. “But that’s not how we operate in the Freedom Caucus.”
Boebert was in a town an hour and a half from Washington to help a fellow hard-line conservative, Rep. Alex Mooney, who faces Rep. David McKinley in a reapportionment-forced primary Tuesday. After headlining that rally, Boebert was off to Quincy, Ill., to support another aligned colleague, Rep. Mary Miller, who’s up against House Administration ranking member Rodney Davis in a June primary.
With Republicans well-positioned to take control of the House next year, members of the at-times leadership-bucking Freedom Caucus are stepping up their efforts to shape the GOP conference.
“We need to win the majority, of course,” Mooney said. “But I think it’s just as important to win the majority with Republicans who actually vote conservative.”
Members are crossing the country fundraising and campaigning for each other, as well as for candidates they hope to add to their ranks after November. In the majority, the group would be poised to again become a powerful check on leadership and a counterweight to more centrist elements in the party, as it was when it formed in 2015.
The caucus’ goal for the midterms is to grow by several members, said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a founding member of the caucus. He estimated the group’s membership, which isn’t public, is in the mid-30s. He wants it to surpass 40.
“We need fires in Congress,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who said she wants to see five to 10 more members in the next Congress. “We need people that will stand on their principles.”
The effort to get there isn’t tightly coordinated. The House Freedom Fund, a political action committee that caucus members are affiliated with and fundraise for, doesn’t coordinate with lawmakers on endorsements, according to Jordan and Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio.).
It endorsed 14 candidates so far this cycle, including five incumbents, six running in open-seat primaries, and the challenger to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
A couple have already lost. Former Rep. Mike Sodrel lost his bid to replace retiring Rep. Trey Hollingworth (R-Ind.) on Tuesday, and Christian Collins fell well short in a March primary to replace retiring Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas).
Some members have backed opposing candidates, as in Florida’s 7th District where Jordan endorsed businessman Cory Mills and Greene backed state Rep. Anthony Sabatini.
Freedom Caucus Future
The Freedom Caucus has a history of bucking leadership, including playing a role in denying now-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) a shot at the speakership in 2015. But the group has evolved beyond a band of far-right outsiders.
Davidson said the Freedom Caucus’ goal isn’t to block items, but rather to effectively negotiate to ensure their priorities are included.
“The basic rules in the Freedom Caucus is you have to be willing to vote no on things that leadership wants you to vote yes on,” he said. “But you also have to be willing to get to yes.”
Jordan is now the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and backed McCarthy for speaker twice. He said the caucus “hasn’t changed a bit,” but rather it’s that House GOP leadership and the overall conference have become more united against Democrats.
“Our conference is more conservative,” Jordan said in an interview. “Our conference is more united, because our conference sees how extremely radical the Democrats have become.”
Even in the minority, caucus members have found a way to frustrate some in their own party. Members including Greene and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) have used a procedural tool—a motion to adjourn—several times to delay votes on legislation they opposed, a move that’s lost support among Republicans over time. Freedom Caucus members have also requested lengthy roll call votes on items that would otherwise have been quickly passed by voice vote.
Boebert, in an interview after the Mooney rally, warned that the caucus would still demand roll call votes under a GOP-controlled House on some bills being advanced under suspension of the rules, which requires two-thirds support.
“If this happens in a Republican majority,” she said, “then certainly we would be there to object to that and make sure that we’re getting a vote.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Kearneysville, W.Va., at firstname.lastname@example.org