The conservative-based House Freedom Caucus, which gained political fame by ousting one Republican House speaker (John Boehner) and making life miserable for another (Paul Ryan), has added a new member to its circle. It’s Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher.
Fulcher, who was undecided about joining the caucus when he took office in January, says he has been part of that group for some time. But while the freedom caucus remains active on a wide variety of issues, it is not the same political animal that it was four years ago when members (including Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador) were instrumental in taking out Boehner.
For Fulcher, membership with the Freedom Caucus is not about shaking up Congress or blasting fellow Republicans for campaigning as conservatives, but voting for big spending. There are no efforts behind the scene to reshape the power structure of House Republicans, which is a good thing since Republicans don’t have much clout in that chamber. Democrats are running the show now and the conservative agenda is not on the radar. The majority party’s focus is in three areas:
Do more investigations of President Trump;
Explore impeachment of the president;
Pass a series of bills that don’t have a snowball’s chance of getting through the Republican-led Senate.
On the bright side for Republicans, the Democratic agenda gives Freedom Caucus members plenty of material for press releases and town-hall chatter.
Republican freshmen, such as Fulcher, have a choice in this political environment. They can join like-minded groups that valiantly fight for certain causes, or sit in their office and hope Republicans regain the majority after the next election. Fulcher didn’t spend much time thinking about what he wants to do.
“As long as I’m here, I’m going to be in the fight and where the action is,” he said. “I want to be part of the solution. I’m not going to just sit back and watch.”
He’s involved with two other groups in addition to the Freedom Caucus. He’s part of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-life Caucus (which is almost all Republican) and the Congressional Western Caucus, which puts him in discussions about public lands and natural resources. Unlike Labrador, Fulcher also maintains a solid working relationship with Second District Congressman Mike Simpson, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.
“We talk pretty much every day,” Fulcher says.
On broader issues, much of the “action” on the GOP side is in the freedom caucus.
“In our state, particularly in the First District, the Freedom Caucus is the one that is the most aggressive in trying to advance the ball on things that are important to CD 1 – such as health care and immigration reform,” Fulcher says. “These are difficult and controversial issues, but the Freedom Caucus is taking them on.”
As an example, Fulcher is co-sponsoring a bill promoted by Rep. Mark Meadows — the Freedom Caucus chairman — that highlights the disparity in pricing of prescription drugs.
Fulcher says that while the U.S. covers the high costs for production of drugs, other countries offer the medications at a cheaper cost.
The bill, which is compatible with the president’s efforts to lower prescription drug costs here, is called “The Fixing Global Free Loading Act.” It’s a name that Trump probably can appreciate; where it goes in the House is another question.
The Freedom Caucus, with one highly publicized exception (Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan), is a staunch supporter of Trump — which puts the group solidly in the GOP mainstream these days. So, it makes sense for Fulcher to be part of a group that backs Trump, given the president’s fan base among Idaho Republicans.
“If there’s a silver lining to being relegated to the minority, it has eliminated the friction that I have only heard about,” Fulcher says. “With everybody on the Republican side, it’s basically one for all and all for one. When we go into conference, I see Meadows and Kevin McCarthy (the House GOP leader) working together.”
It’s too bad that it took an election-night whipping to shape up House Republicans, who typically don’t handle the majority status any better than Democrats. The GOP seems to be finding out that focused efforts are more effective for governing than self-cannibalization.
Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.