Another tea-party fraud. It’d be one thing if he looked at the state of play, saw that the votes aren’t there, then attacked Trump and his congressional enablers for refusing to undo a terrible policy. But that’s not what Meadows is up to here. The head of the Freedom Caucus, ostensibly the bulwark of conservatism in the House, seemingly wants no part of this debate.
Which is uncharacteristic, notes Haley Byrd, correctly. Since when does the Freedom Caucus bow out of a fight just because the odds are against them? It’s scarcely an exaggeration to say that the group exists not to pass conservative legislation, for which there sadly isn’t much of a market in Congress, but to rant about it when “the establishment” thwarts their goals.
Now here’s the president of the United States, head of the Washington “establishment,” thwarting basic conservative free-trade principles, yet Meadows has nothing to say. Good thing the tea party’s already dead and doesn’t have to watch this betrayal. As it is, what’s left of it will pat Meadows on the back for not going against The King.
[I]t was clear on Monday night that this atrophied Congress has little interest in taking back trade authority from the White House, even under current circumstances. “There is zero chance that there is going to be a legislative fix that comes out of the House and the Senate to address this issue,” said House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows. He also avoided taking a stance on whether he would support such a bill.
“It’s a hypothetical. I’m not going to answer,” he said. “It just is not going to happen.”
But when have slim odds ever stopped the Freedom Caucus from pursuing something before?
When indeed. Remember, the national-security exemption that Trump’s planning to use to impose the tariffs is a creature of statutory law, the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. If Congress wants to rescind that power to block Trump, it can. A different Mark, also a member of the Freedom Caucus but one who privileges the country’s economic well-being over his fealty to Trump, wonders why the legislature doesn’t try legislating for a change:
Rep. Mark Sanford said Trump’s tariff proposal is a “a gross misuse of that section of the law.”
“The idea that trading with our dearest neighbors of the north and one of our best and most long-standing allies is a threat to national security is something I don’t understand,” the South Carolina Republican said.
You can imagine Meadows’s response: The votes aren’t there. We can rant about this until we’re blue in the face and the numbers will remain daunting. Ryan and McConnell would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a Trump veto, which will be difficult given Democrats’ own ambivalence on trade. (Although maybe not as difficult as some imagine. I think Democrats might be open to a measure restoring power over tariffs to Congress, in the short-term because it would grievously humiliate Trump and in the longer-term because they expect to be back in charge of Congress by 2021. If they want to impose protectionism of their own by then, they may have the numbers.) But we’re back again to Byrd’s point: Since when does the Freedom Caucus balk at longshot legislative endeavors simply because they’re longshot? Various Republicans who would later go on to join the FC backed Ted Cruz’s effort in 2013 to shut down the government in the name of blocking ObamaCare even though it had zero chance of success. Now suddenly they’re on the wrong side of Trump on an issue in which Trump is grossly opposed to free-market economic principles and Meadows, the chairman, won’t so much as comment. Fancy that.
Here’s my best devil’s-advocate pitch in defense of Meadows’s gutlessness. One: With a Democrat as president, the Freedom Caucus’s job is easy. Nothing that passes the House with their support will make it past the president’s desk so they can be full-throated in airing their grievances. With Trump as president, the equation is more complicated. If Meadows is going to fight the president now, he has to ask himself every time he disagrees with the White House, “Is this the hill I want to die on?” If he goes all-in against Trump, particularly on a policy like tariffs that’s near and dear to Trump’s heart, he’s going to burn whatever influence he has with the president. Fight him on this and he might never again accept your counsel on legislation going forward. Meadows might feel obliged to take the loss this time in the name of preserving Trump’s goodwill, which he can use later to sway POTUS on policies on which he’s more open to being swayed.
And two: Needless to say, the Freedom Caucus’s constituents are more loyal to Trump than they are to Meadows or to (giggle) fiscal conservatism. There is no “tea party movement” that’ll line up behind them against POTUS when he makes bad economic choices. The “tea party” is MAGA Nation now. And even if you removed Trump from the equation, it’s not clear that most grassroots Republicans would side with free trade over protectionism. The party began trending towards the latter years before Trump emerged on the scene as a function of its growing blue-collar identity. They latched onto fiscal conservatism in 2009 as a reaction to Obama and would probably back a Republican effort in Congress to rescind the president’s power to impose tariffs *if* that power was being exerted by O or some other Democrat. But that’s not because they agree with Meadows on the economic merits, it’s because of partisan contrarianism. I wonder how Meadows feels knowing that, that he’s head of a small but superficially powerful caucus in the House with … no real constituency among the electorate when the chips are down. No wonder he’s folding here.
But again, all of this is little more than excuse-making given the Freedom Caucus’s track record. The members spend most of their time pointing fingers at the Republican leadership for not being conservative enough in pursuing their agenda. Now here’s King Donald farting out a new tax on steel and aluminum, with potentially much more to come as a trade war develops, and Meadows won’t so much as comment. Pathetic.