What is the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives?

Conservative Splinter Group Keeps a Check on Republican Leaders

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio
Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio was the first chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Alex Wong/Getty Images News

The Freedom Caucus is a voting bloc of more than three dozen Republican members of the House of Representatives who are ideologically conservative and aligned with the Tea Party. The Freedom Caucus was formed in January 2015 by nine members whose mission is to “advance an agenda of limited, constitutional government in Congress.”

Its mission reads:

“The House Freedom Caucus gives 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 coalition has been described as a splinter group of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative group that serves as a watchdog on the party's leadership in Congress.

Founding Members of the Freedom Caucus

The nine founding members of the Freedom Caucus are:

  • Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan
  • Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida
  • Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana
  • Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey 
  • Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio
  • Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho
  • Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina
  • Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina 
  • Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona 

Jordan was elected the first chairman of the Freedom Caucus. 

Why the Small Freedom Caucus is a Big Deal

The Freedom Caucus represents but a small fraction of the 435-member House. But as a voting bloc they hold sway over the House Republican Conference, which seeks support from at least 80 percent of its members for any move to be considered binding.  

“Choosing their fights carefully, the Freedom Caucus has certainly made an impact since its formation,” wrote the Pew Research Center’s Drew DeSilver.

DeSilver explained in 2015:

“How does such a small group get to have such a big say? Simple arithmetic: Currently, Republicans have 247 seats in the House to 188 for the Democrats, which would seem to be a comfortable majority. But if the 36 (or more) Freedom Caucus members vote as a bloc against the GOP leadership’s wishes, their effective strength falls to 211 or fewer – that is, less than the majority needed to elect a new speaker, pass bills and conduct most other business.”

Role in John Boehner Resignation

The Freedom Caucus rose to prominence during the battle over Ohio Republican John Boehner’s future as speaker of the House in 2015. The caucus was pushing Boehner to defund Planned Parenthood even if it meant forcing a government shutdown. Boehner, tired of the infighting, announced he would abandon the post and quit Congress altogether.

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One member of the Freedom Caucus even suggested to Roll Call that a motion to vacate the chair would pass if all of the Democrats were to vote in favor of ousting Boehner. “If the Democrats were to file a motion to vacate the chair and were to vote for that motion unanimously, there probably are 218 votes for it to succeed,” the unnamed member said.

Many in the Freedom Caucus later supported Paul Ryan’s bid for speaker. Ryan was to become one of the youngest speakers of the House in modern history.

Controversy

At least Freedom Caucus member defected because he was unhappy with the group’s tactics, including its willingness to side with Democrats on votes that would undermine mainstream or moderate Republicans, including the effort to oust Boehner through a Vacate the Chair motion.

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin quit after the leadership coup. “I was a member of the Freedom Caucus in the very beginning because we were focused on making process reforms to get every Member’s voice heard and advance conservative policy,” Ribble said in a written statement provided to CQ Roll Call. “When the Speaker resigned and they pivoted to focusing on the leadership race, I withdrew.”

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U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock of California quit the Freedom Caucus nine months after it formed because, he wrote, of its “willingness – indeed, an eagerness – to strip the House Republican majority of its ability to set the House agenda by combining with House Democrats on procedural motions.”

“As a result, it has thwarted vital conservative policy objectives and unwittingly become Nancy Pelosi’s tactical ally,” he wrote, adding that the Freedom Caucus’ “many missteps have made it counterproductive to its stated goals.”