Politics & Government

Freedom Caucus’ Rep. Mark Meadows is back in the middle of health care debate

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., on Capitol Hill in March.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., on Capitol Hill in March. The Washington Post

Rep. Mark Meadows walked to the black taped X on the Senate office building floor, the spot before the throng of cameras that eagerly awaited the conservative Freedom Caucus chairman from western North Carolina.

"X marks the spot, eh?" a smiling Meadows said after a closed-door meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.

Meadows finds himself on the spot – and in the spotlight – again this week as House Republicans and the Trump administration frantically try to revive an effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Opposition by Meadows’ band of 30-plus conservatives and resistance by a separate group of Republican moderates forced House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to pull the GOP-crafted bill hours before it would have failed in a vote on last month.

Conservatives rebelled against the original measure because they said it was too much like Obamacare. Moderates disliked the bill because they thought too many people would lose health insurance.

After enduring angry and threatening tweets from President Donald Trump labeling the Freedom Caucus as uncooperative and dangerous as Democrats, Meadows is back at the bargaining table, talking Monday and Tuesday to White House officials, moderate Republicans and others.

"I think we’re feeling pressure from the White House," Meadows said Tuesday. "But I can tell you there’s probably more internal pressure for me to deliver on behalf of the people who are hurting under Obamacare. Any pressure is really more self-inflicted than externally inflicted."

The pressure is on. The House is scheduled to leave Thursday afternoon for a lengthy recess and not return until April 25.

"To say that we’re on the 10 yard line of the 20 yard line without seeing the playbook would be very difficult," he said Tuesday. "There’s been solid discussions of potential options with nothing promised on either side other than a willingness to put forth an idea and consider an idea."

Ryan wouldn’t commit to a timetable. He said the process of coming up with new legislation is in the “conceptual stage,” adding, “it's premature to say where we are or what we're on.”

Meadows saw Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney when they stopped by a meeting Tuesday that he was attending on Capitol Hill. He spoke with Ryan earlier in the day. Those conversations were in addition to Monday’s Freedom Caucus talks with Pence, Priebus, and Mulvaney.

While pushing conservative alterations to the GOP health care bill, Meadows says he’s tried to walk in moderate Republican shoes to get a sense of their concerns about the potential changes to the GOP health care bill.

"For the last 72 hours, I’ve been trying to look at this particular issue from a moderate district representative’s perspective," he said. "Take my district out of it and say, okay if I was representing a district in New Jersey or Pennsylvania that may not be as conservative as mine what kind of changes could I endorse in exchange of what other kind of conservative changes. It’s got to be good for every, and I recognize that."

Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., co-chair of the centrist Tuesday Group, deflected questions about Meadows, saying that they “both have a job to do and represent the people who sent us here.”

He said he was pleased “with the things we got added back into the bill for Medicaid people, people with disabilities, what we did for pregnant women, people with mental health issues, what we did for the people 50 to 64 age band.”

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said Meadows has served the Freedom Caucus well with his even-keeled approach.

“I think he’s a consummate Southern gentleman,” Sanford said of MacArthur. “He’s a person you would want on any corporate board. He’s the person you’d want to see on your business team given the way he carries himself and given the way that he focuses on the people that matter and the details that matter.”

Meadows repeatedly says that Trump’s angry response toward the Freedom Caucus and the president singling him out during a Republican conference meeting last month, saying half-jokingly “ I’m gonna come after you,” hasn’t impacted the way he’s dealing with White House officials on health care.

"Everybody’s concerned about a primary, but the threat of a primary in my district had an opposite effect," he said.

In other words, Meadows and the Freedom Caucus sticking to their opposition to the GOP health care bill has enhanced their status among some conservatives.

"The fact that the White House has dispatched Vice President Pence, and Director Mulvaney of the OMB to meet with the Freedom Caucus is a good sign," said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. "It seems, in an effort to mend fences, and repair his brand, the president might be offering up something much closer to actual repeal." 

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas