Less than 24 hours after Washington celebrated Independence Day, in the midst of a two-week stretch of round-the-clock discussions on healthcare reform and the GOP agenda, Rep. Mark Meadows drove up to the White House to talk strategy.
“Can you hold on just a second?” he asked the Washington Examiner as he rolled down the window to speak to security. “I’m heading in the guard gate.” He’s a busy guy, and he was in the middle of phone interview as he pulled into the executive mansion.
“I’m going up to see Steve Bannon,” he said, not to his interviewer but to one of the rings of security. “Thank you.”
Most lawmakers had gone home for a week’s recess, but Meadows stuck around for a while at least. He and his wife, Debbie, had to celebrate America’s 241st birthday with friends, but he also had business to attend to.
Healthcare reform and the rest of the Republican legislative agenda evolve continuously, and as they have, Meadows has become a central figure and a chief influencer in a federal Washington run by President Trump.
He has arrived in this unaccustomed position after years cementing his standing as the consummate outsider. Meadows is in his third term as a member of the House of Representatives. He won North Carolina’s drastically-redrawn 11th District after an eight-way Republican primary contest in 2012.
He has certainly made his presence felt more than ever before in the first six months of the Trump presidency. Despite his nearly constant smile and an aw-shucks demeanor being very different from Trump’s jaw-jutting demeanor, Meadows resembles the president in unmistakeable ways. He has challenged the party’s traditional leaders and bucked the establishment. He used to be a real estate broker, he pitches himself as a negotiator, and uses news media effectively to build his influence. Who does that remind you of? But it must be conceded that Meadows is an emollient character and considerably less pugnacious than his president.
He’s been a thorn in the side of the GOP leadership for years. But despite this, he has now cultivated a fruitful relationship with the Trump administration and has established a rapport with House leadership cordial enough to give the Freedom Caucus, of which he is head, not just a seat at the table but real influence.
This is what its members have pined for since the group was formed. The caucus famously tangled with the GOP’s House conference when it was led by Speaker John Boehner, especially over a push in 2013 to defund Obamacare. That effort was spearheaded by Meadows. But the arrival of Trump has changed everything and has pushed the Freedom Caucus to the negotiating table, where Meadows, the real estate executive, is in his comfort zone.
“Before, it was very easy to be against things, and just say, ‘This is our position. This is where we’re going to be,'” Meadows said in one of three interviews with the Washington Examiner. “If you just say, ‘Well, this is our position. That’s all we’re going to support,’ we have at best four years to make this all work. Maybe, at worst, two years, and so becoming so rigid in a unified government makes you miss opportunities.
“Here, we know every single time if we’re going to be a conservative conference, the votes of the 36 House Freedom Caucus members, every one of them counts. It’s important that we get it right, but it’s also important that we don’t frustrate some of our colleagues, which we have done in the past and that we might have even done last week. But it’s important that we see that we’re persuadable, and hopefully the whole healthcare debate showed both ends of the spectrum — not persuadable, but persuadable.”