A look at how the secretive Congressional House Freedom Caucus espouses populist rhetoric while backed by billionaire Koch brothers and mid-level southern capitalists
JOHN BOEHNER: It’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution. And so this morning I informed my colleagues that I would resign from the speakership and resign from Congress at the end of October. JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: That’s how John Boehner dropped the gavel after 5 years as Speaker of the House. He said his early exit was an effort to diffuse prolong leadership turmoil. But in Washington, what does prolonged leadership turmoil mean? You won’t have to look to far to find a group of conservative members who were calling for Boehner to resign. In the last speaker’s election in January 15 of the 25 representatives who voted against Boehner were all members of the newly-founded House Freedom Caucus. With no website or official roster there’s not too much on the record about the group. According to Roll Call it found that 38 members of Congress identified with the group in July. This is how founding member Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador describes this by invitation only House Freedom Caucus. RAUL LABRADOR (R-ID): We have a concern that both parties, both Republican and Democrats, come to Washington, DC saying that they’re working for the little people. But when they get here what they really do is they work for special interests. They work for the people that, that give more money to their campaigns. And what we want to do is we want to represent the people back home. We want to let the American people know that we believe in the things that they’re saying, we understand the frustrations that they have, and we’re just as frustrated as they are and we want to push that agenda forward in the House of Representatives. DESVARIEUX: But what are the interests behind this conservative section? Author of the book They Rule: The 1% Vs. Democracy, Paul Street says that the Freedom Caucus comes right out of the Tea Party legacy. PAUL STREET: But if you look at the people in Congress that are in the so-called Freedom Caucus, very much like the Tea Party caucus, you find them in Washington moving very much in circles that are very much about Koch brother money and other very elite money. And that money tends to be very much oil and gas money. It’s very disproportionately Southern, 22 out of 37 members are from the South. And Western. Just as, just like the Tea Party. Eight of them come from the West. Just four of them are from the Midwest. And then you see a lot of these people speaking at events held by Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Heritage Foundation. In the Club for Growth, you know, and other key Koch brother [agents], that’s where you really do see those elite connections. I think it’s kind of top-down rogue elite billionaire money combined with the kind of smaller scale regional and state-wide mid-level business money, all kind of connected around this theme of free market capitalism and opposition to the federal government. DESVARIEUX: This partnership between rogue billionaires and established Southern interests can be seen in the campaign finances of North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows. You may recognize the name, since he spearheaded the campaign to remove Boehner. He uncovered a House rule that had not been used since 1910 to force the speaker from his post. Meadow’s big donors include many conservative groups like Citizens United. And back in 2013 his election received thousands from the oil and gas industry before he co-sponsored a bill that expanded offshore drilling. But despite being backed by big money interests, Meadows campaigns on standing up for Main Street. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): –A double standard. That the same standard on Main Street is the same standard in Washington, DC. That’s what we need to do. I can be accountable for all our office [inaud.] here in Washington, DC. STREET: This Freedom Caucus phenomenon as being representative of some sort of, you know, broad, white, lower-class, working-class rebellion of hyperalienated crazies. And while there’s some of that going on at the electoral margins, you know, in the base, really what you actually have are often very highly educated upper middle-class professionals, oftentimes with Ivy League degrees, a number of the early leadership of the Freedom Caucus have advanced training beyond bachelor’s degree and some of them are from Ivy League schools. You know, who are committed capitalist free market libertarians. But operating within regions where historically capitalism, capitalists, have been more mid-level. DESVARIEUX: Street adds that Southern mid-level capitalists like owners of insurance companies and car dealerships typically have been historically distrustful and adversarial towards the federal government. Now with the financial backing of billionaire Koch brothers, they have launched their anti-government conservatism onto a global stage. Street says this conservatism is different from that of the Fortune 500 elite, Wall Street bankers, and the defense industry, since they see the government as having a role in keeping them profitable. But House Freedom Caucus co-founder Raul Labrador says there are no sacred cows when it comes to cutting spending. LABRADOR: The Republican party has its sacred cows, and the Democratic party has its sacred cows. And they both agree to not touch each others’ sacred cows, to not do anything about each others’ sacred cows. And that’s why we have the kind of spending that we have. That’s why we have the kind of deficits and the kind of spending that we do here in Washington, DC. DESVARIEUX: The battle over spending will take place again on December 11, when Congress must pass a budget to avoid a government shutdown. That date also coincides with the UN’s climate change conference in Paris, where leaders must agree to new targets for carbon emissions, something Street says is good news for the Koch brothers. STREET: The Koch brothers are trying to cripple the Obama administration and cripple the federal government at this moment of climate negotiation. And they want to distract and divert the news cycle, [essentially] to destroy the Obama administration’s, you know, sort of lame duck, last-ditch capacity. DESVARIEUX: For the Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
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