Mark vs Mark: Two NC Congressmen Vie For Conservative Influence

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The North Carolina congressional delegation, ounce for ounce, may be one of the most influential delegations on Capitol Hill. The increasing clout being amassed by Tar Heels may best be represented by a pair of Marks – Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and new chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) Mark Walker.

While Meadows has been more visible after splintering the RSC to found the Freedom Caucus, Walker’s recent election to chair has him positioning the RSC as the reemerging, and larger, conservative faction with in the House. But is Walker’s conservative persona just theatrics put on to dethrone Meadows and rid the GOP of conservative troublemakers?

The Hill has a profile on the two Marks and their parallel, and competitive, paths to prominence within the Republican House Majority.

“In recent years, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has burnished a reputation as a conservative hard-liner, unwilling to compromise with Democrats or his own GOP leadership.

But lately, it’s the chairman of another conservative House caucus, a fellow North Carolina Republican also by the name of Mark, who’s been taking a more conservative stance.

Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Mark Walker has staked out positions to the right of Meadows on ObamaCare insurer subsidies, disaster relief and tax reform as he seeks to reestablish the RSC as the dominant conservative voice in Congress.”

Interestingly, the whole rise of the Freedom Caucus can be attributed to the RSC becoming too large and too Establishment friendly. The 160 member RSC is the largest caucus in Congress and accomodating such a diverse group often meant moderating positions and facilitating business as usual in Washington.

As a result Meadows and others stuck out to form their own caucus that would remain loyal to the principles of conservatism. Now that the Freedom Caucus has achieved a level of influence much larger than its numbers would suggest, the RSC, under new leadership, is seeking to recapture its prominence and displace the new conservative hardliners.

“The budding rivalry between “the two Marks” isn’t surprising: Walker, 48, and Meadows, 58, are both extremely ambitious, popular politicians from the Tar Heel State who are effective communicators with big personalities.

And both could use their current conservative posts as a springboard to a House leadership post, a 2020 Senate bid or other higher office down the road.

“There’s definitely a rivalry there, being from the same state and both leading these influential conservative caucuses in the House,” said a GOP source familiar with the North Carolina delegation. “And I don’t think they have much of a relationship.”

Meadows, a real-estate investor who represents the western tip of North Carolina, declined to comment on the different positions he and Walker have staked out but said generally: “Chairman Walker and members of the RSC do a fine job in trying to make sure the conservative voice is heard.”

Walker, a Baptist minister from Greensboro, N.C., also was reluctant to discuss Meadows and the Freedom Caucus, instead focusing on his efforts to restore the influence of the 160-member RSC, the largest caucus on Capitol Hill.”

Having more conservative voices on Capitol Hill is definitely not a bad thing. It will be interesting, however, to see what the end game is here for Walker and the RSC. Being that the RSC caucus is so large and its recent history paints a picture of a conservative committee in name that still supports Establishment leadership when push comes to shove, one wonders how much they would be walking the conservative line if the highly visible Freedom Caucus no longer existed.

To that end, is Walker seeking to undercut Meadows, specifically, and the Freedom Caucus in general? After all, when Walker ran for congress in 2014 he pledged to not vote for the embattled then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), but when he moved into his office one of the first things he did was vote for Boehner for Speaker and cozy up to Establishment leadership.

Walker has since developed a rap sheet of transgressions against conservative positions, such as championing Tillis-style bipartisanship on illegal immigration that does more to elevate Democrats’ causes than advancing conservative principles of national security and law and order.

While Meadows has demonstrated the leadership qualities that would make him a good conservative choice for Speaker, Walker may be angling for his own position in leadership or for the Establishment’s blessing in running for higher office.

“But if Walker and Meadows are looking to climb the leadership ladder, they’ll also have to contend with another powerful North Carolina Republican, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, Scalise’s right-hand man, who has political ambitions of his own.

With Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) continuing to work on legislation providing a path to legalization for so-called Dreamer immigrants, Walker and Meadows may see Tillis as vulnerable to a 2020 Senate primary, sources said.

“I don’t think either one will run for governor. The lieutenant governor would be very hard to beat,” said the North Carolina GOP source. “But as he trends toward the middle, Senator Tillis is someone they could both gun for.””

Can Walker pull off hitting Tillis over support for amnesty legislation when Walker himself has been less than reliable on that very issue?

We shall see, but perhaps in the mean time the surplus of conservative talk on capitol Hill will translate into conservative policies. Wishful thinking?

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