WASHINGTON – After withering criticism, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has reversed course and allowed a dissenting conservative to be reinstated to a key post.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., was stripped of his chairmanship of the Government Operations Subcommittee last week in a move widely acknowledged to be engineered by Boehner in retaliation for trying to slow down passage of the bill giving President Obama "fast-track" trade authority.
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A Capitol Hill aide called the reversal, "A huge win for conservatives."
It was House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who technically disciplined Meadows, but it was widely acknowledged to have been done at the behest of Boehner.
That was after Meadows voted against a procedure facilitating passage of the Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, bill that eventually passed and gave the president the power to negotiate massive trade deals with other countries, cut Congress out of the negotiations and limit lawmakers’ participation to a simple yes or no vote when such treaties are concluded.
Boehner may have retreated not due to a change of heart, but out of fear of retaliation by conservatives, who threatened to vote with Democrats to bring the speaker's legislative agenda to a halt.
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An even more effective threat may have been when supporters of Meadows leaked word they had enough votes to side with Democrats to oust Boehner as speaker.
“If the Democrats were to file a motion to vacate the chair and were to vote for that motion unanimously, there probably are 218 votes for it to succeed,” one member of the House Freedom Caucus told Roll Call Tuesday night.
Thursday, Chaffetz and Meadows issued a joint statement.
"Having spoken with Mark Meadows several times during the past week, I think we both better understand each other," wrote Chaffetz.
"I respect Mark and his approach. The discussions and candor have been healthy and productive. Ultimately, I believe we both want to do what is best for the country. Obviously, I believe in Mark Meadows or I would not have appointed him to this position in the first place. It is in the best interest of the committee to move forward together. Therefore, I have asked Mark to continue in his role as sub-committee chairman."
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“I greatly appreciate Chairman Jason Chaffetz’ willingness to reconsider his decision, as well as my Oversight and Government Reform Committee colleagues’ support," wrote Meadows.
"I will continue to vote and conduct myself in accordance with my conscience, what my constituents want me to do, and what is best for the country."
Following his dismissal, Meadows had a few choice words for GOP House leadership just three days ago:
“They wanted to continue to have a culture of fear of retribution and, yet, the speaker said he had learned his lesson and that he would be open to conservatives. Obviously that is not the case and so here we are today.”
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He also posted a scathing statement on Facebook:
“No one should be punished for voting their conscience and representing their constituents. I didn’t run for Congress to be a Yes vote for House Republican leadership. I came here to represent the people of Western North Carolina. My voting card may have my picture on it, but it belongs to the people of Western North Carolina and I will continue to listen to their voices regardless of the consequences. God bless.”
Fellow conservatives were supportive of Meadows and blasted Boehner.
Radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham didn't mince words in describing the tactics of House Republican leaders: "This is what the mafia does. I’m sorry, but this is a political mafia on Capitol Hill.
"I don’t see this as a Republican Party who represents people like me. And if they distance themselves from people like me, then I don’t see how [they're] going to win the presidency."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted: "What happened to @RepMarkMeadows is shameful. No one should be punished for voting his or her conscience."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Hucakbee issued a statement, reading, "In the face of enormous pressure from the House GOP leadership to vote for Obamatrade, Congressman Meadows voted his conscience. For this act, he was punished by party leaders and lost his subcommittee chairmanship."
He added, "Congressman Meadows values convictions over committee assignments, principle over politics, and service to Americans over service for himself. In my book, you should be lauded – not loathed. Well done, Congressman, well done!"
On Monday, Ingraham interviewed separately Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who said: "It’s completely wrong. ... Mark Meadows gets punished for voting his conscience for doing what he told the voters in North Carolina he was going to do."
Jordan, who is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative House members, agreed with Ingraham that this did not seem the best way to recapture the White House.
And he let his frustration be known, telling her, "Mark Meadows is a good man, a good friend and what they did to him is exactly wrong, and there are a number of us who are fed up with it."
Meadows downplayed the slight to him but stressed the importance of doing the will of his constituents, and he refused to apologize for doing what he said he was elected to do.
He called the loss of his chairmanship minor, saying, "This is about the voice of American people; they need to be heard."
Jordan had also implied Boehner was breaking his promise to listen more to conservatives, by giving House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democrats the amendment they wanted while ignoring an amendment proposed by conservatives, and covered in detail by WND, to give Congress more say in the trade deal.
"They (Democrats) got what they wanted. So someone who stood up and fought for his district loses his subcommittee chairmanship. What is going on here?" Jordan wondered aloud to Ingraham.
The Ohioan said the trade deal was just symptomatic of a much bigger problem for the GOP: "We aren’t doing what we said we would do."
He noted the trade deal wasn't even an issue in the 2014 elections that gave Republicans a landslide victory and control of the Senate in addition to the House. The top issues were stopping immigration amnesty and Obamacare.
"Why did they give us the largest majority in the house in 80 years?," he asked rhetorically, noting it was not for leadership to move "heaven and earth" to give Obama even more unchecked power.
Referring to a recent Pew poll, Jordan said, "My bigger concern here, Laura, is you know why 65 percent of Republicans think Republican leadership is not doing what they said they would do? Because we aren’t doing what we said we would do."
Meadows did not blame Chaffetz for his demotion, but had pointed a finger at House leaders.
"This is not about Jason, he has had unbelievable pressure from leadership," said the North Carolinian. "He said it is his decision, and indeed it is, but he had unbelievable pressure that leadership wanted this to happen."
Chaffetz had given two reasons to Meadows for the demotion.
"One is I voted against the rule, against leadership. The other was that I, after they started targeting me with hits from a PAC (political action committee) that was very closely tied to the speaker, I told them I wasn’t going to give any more money to the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) until I had assurances that they weren’t going to run ads against me from my own team."
Meadows said he was told it had nothing to do with his job performance.
"In fact, I think if you asked everybody, they’ll say that I am a valuable member of the team. But I am not going to just roll over and wave the white flag when it comes to leadership. If this is price I have to pay for representing the American people, then so be it. I gladly pay the price."
The GOP fratricide flared into the open over opposition among many House conservatives to the Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA.
GOP leadership took revenge last week against three representatives who voted against giving Obama "fast track" trade authority. Reps. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Steve Pearce, N.M., and Trent Franks, Ariz., were kicked off the House Republicans' "whip team," responsible for drumming up votes.
The final vote on TPA was Wednesday in the Senate, where it passed.
Meadows said 95 percent of his colleagues didn’t read the TPA.
"I am one of the few that did," he said. "When you really look at it, this fast track had 150 suggestions. I say suggestions because they’re not mandates. The president could do anything he wanted to do, and the only person who can hold him accountable would have been Chairman Paul Ryan."
TPA will allow the House Ways and Means Committee, which Ryan chairs, to vote on proposed changes to "fast-track" trade bills, but not the full Congress.
"It is giving away our constitutional abilities," charged Meadows. "I have a problem with that, and the American people have a problem with that."
Ingraham said to Jordan, "I personally have not seen GOP leadership work as hard on something and devote as much time as they’ve devoted to this trade issue, and behind the scenes, lots of arm twisting has been going on by Paul Ryan and Boehner himself."
Jordan had similar observations, noting, "I don’t know that I’ve seen leadership turn on the juice like they did. I mean, they really want to get this done."
"I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the intensity for a piece [of] legislation, not something like the funding bill, the omnibus bill ... but something that’s just a piece [of] legislation, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the intensity that we saw on display here the last couple weeks with this legislation."
Jordan has repeatedly said he wanted a free-trade deal, telling WND two weeks ago that he understood the importance of trade and what it means for businesses in his Ohio district as well as across the country.
“But you want to do it right,” Jordan said.
"And so," he told Ingraham, "a number of us conservatives say, if you're going to do it, at least do it with some checks and safeguards so we can keep a better eye on this president who, frankly, has a history that is not real good about negotiating deals, that we think, are in the best interest of our constituents."
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., had been leading the charge against TPA, his greatest concern being that it would create an international legal body, akin to the European Union, that would have vast powers to change U.S. law, outside of the control of Congress.
He has said one effect would be the bypassing of U.S. immigration laws, greatly increasing the number of foreign workers allowed into the country, costing Americans jobs and depressing wages.
Sessions penned an open letter on Sunday that claimed reams of new information have been exposed since the Senate last voted on TPA more than four weeks ago, including "information that was either not known or understood when the vote was held."
Much of that information regards the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a monumental trade deal between the U.S. and Pacific Rim nations that would almost certainly be passed into law, as would all "fast-tracked" trade deals, should TPA become law.
Sessions listed the problems:
- TPP includes the administration’s pledge to impose "environmental governance."
- TPP would lead to the formation of a new Pacific Union, "an enduring, self-governing political entity with vast regulatory power. Yet fast-track – which has led without fail to the adoption of every covered agreement since its inception – would rush it through with less legislative scrutiny than a Post Office reform bill."
- "The president has refused to answer the most simple but crucial questions about how he plans to use fast-track powers. He will not even answer whether he believes his plan will increase or reduce the trade deficit, increase or reduce manufacturing jobs, or increase or reduce wages."
- "In addition to the TPP are the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). Together they encompass three-fourths of the world economy, and up to ninety percent of the world economy when including countries whose membership is being courted."
- "The texts of TTIP and TiSA remain completely secret –unreviewable by lawmakers themselves – yet fast-track would authorize the executive to sign them before Congress votes."
- "The president would send Congress legislation to change U.S. law to comport with these new agreements, legislation which cannot be amended, which senators cannot filibuster, cannot receive a two-thirds treaty vote, and cannot be debated for more than 20 hours."
- "The Ways and Means Committee has also now conceded that, as an unprecedented 'Living Agreement,' the union could change its structure, rules, regulations and enforcement mechanisms after final ratification – a dangerous and unjustifiable power."
- "TiSA would seek foreign worker mobility among 50 nations, including between the United States, Turkey and Pakistan."
Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth