top of page

Freedom Caucus Founder Matt Salmon Says To Expect Government Shutdowns

Matt Salmon is a lobbyist who served in Congress a couple of times and ran for higher office a couple of times, losing each time. His politics are very far right and he was one of the founders— with Gym Jordan, Mick Mulvaney and Raúl Labrador— of the neo-fascist Freedom Caucus. Yesterday, Rolling Stone ran a Tim Dickinson interview with him about the Speaker race. The premise is that McCarthy could lose but won’t. Dickinson emphasizes that “The Freedom Caucus is a small group of 30-odd hardline right wingers inside the Republican House conference. Wielding legislative power in Washington requires being able to pass routine, party-line votes. But the Freedom Caucus is infamous for withholding its support on such pro-forma measures, and grinding GOP governance to a halt.” With a 4 person majority, McCarthy can’t afford to try to do anything without the Freedom Caucus stamp of approval. That would include compromising with the Democrats— or even depending on them for routine government business.

Right now there are at least two dozen Republicans opposing McCarthy— at least 6 who say "under no circumstances." So how does he come up with 218 votes on the first day of the 118th Congress? “There’s no obvious fallback candidate to unify the conference,” wrote Dickinson. “And the scramble to restore basic order inside the GOP would portend two years of chaos and disfunction in Washington— that’s likely to threaten the U.S. economy and the daily functioning of government services on which we all depend.

Salmon told Dickinson that “What really broke my heart was that when Trump became president, the Freedom Caucus, basically gave him a blank checkbook. They backed away from the whole deficit thing. They all did an about-face. They stopped being the guardian of the Treasury. The other thing we were vocal about was executive orders— you know, violating Article One of the Constitution— with the executive branch creating laws or appropriating money. But then when Trump became president, nary a peep out of the same folks about executive orders that clearly crossed the line as well. When presidents do things that you believe are unconstitutional, you can’t just speak up if it’s a member of the opposite party. You have to be consistent… It frustrated the hell out of me to see how people that made the deficit and the debt federal debt their top issues give the President a complete pass. A lot of the issues that we cared about went by the wayside [under Trump]. And the Freedom Caucus just became the cheering section for the President— no matter what he did."

Dickinson: "Looking forward to the next congress, we now have a situation where there’s going to be a very slender Republican majority. Your friend, and congressional successor, Rep. Andy Biggs mounted a leadership challenge to McCarthy. He didn’t get enough votes to win, but if his bloc of 31 were to stay united against McCarthy, they could deny him the Speakership. What can you tell me about that?"

Salmon "Andy? He’s a great guy. What they’re trying to do, more than anything, is to get commitments and concessions out of McCarthy. Because in the past, the Freedom Caucus has been discounted and put on the sidelines. As a result of some of this [maneuvering], you’ll probably see Jim Jordan become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. You’ll probably see Freedom Caucus members on far more A-level committees, and more positions of influence. You’ll see Freedom Caucus members with a seat at the table— which is really what they’re what they’re trying to accomplish. To make sure that you just don’t have the leadership going into a closed room, and deciding what the priorities are going to be."

Dickinson: "What scuttlebutt are you hearing about McCarthy?"

Salmon: "Republicans are gonna have a bare majority; it’s going to be really, really tight. There’s going to be over 30 members of the Freedom Caucus, and so they’re gonna have a significant influence. I hope they’re smart about it, and pick their battles wisely. Because, if they’re not careful, they’re gonna end up becoming the villains, you know, of the country instead of the heroes."

Dickinson: "Does McCarthy have the political chops for this job?"

Salmon: "He’s a he’s a survivor. That’s clear. And he’s somebody that understands he’s going to need to work with the political realities that exist. And the political realities that exist are that there is a Freedom Caucus; they have significant power; and he better bring them into the tent instead of keep him out— because if he keeps em out, he’s not gonna get anything done. And then he’s gonna end up having to negotiate just about everything with the Democrats."

Dickisnon: "Is McCarthy is particularly skilled in the sense of figuring out what the competing interests of his conference are, and divining that path forward?"

Salmon: "He’s never actually been in that situation. Right? Because he’s never been the top leader. He’s been the top minority leader. But that’s a lot different. When you have to be the Speaker of the House, there’s no way to predict how it’s going to be until it starts to play out."

Dickinson: "Do you expect that we’re going to see showdowns over government funding and the debt ceiling? Is that going to be deja vu all over again?"

Salmon: "Yeah. I do expect you will. But I expect that there are concessions. There were points, when we were doing what you call “brinksmanship”— there were things that we would have tolerated had minor points come our way."

Dickinson: "You’re saying that if somebody had thrown you a bone back then, you might have been amenable to compromise? And they were just not wanting to play ball with you at all?"

Salmon: "They were unwilling to play ball. And there are people in Kevin’s conference that hate the Freedom Caucus— with a passion— and they want to play the game of petty vindictiveness. 'Screw ‘em. Don’t give them a seat at the table.' He’s got to reject that. I think that Kevin has seen [the consequences] far too often— I mean walk down memory lane. Newt Gingrich was forced out of office. John Boehner was forced out of office. Kevin has studied the mistakes that others have made. I think he’s a smart guy. If he is magnanimous and gives them a seat at the table and is willing to work with them, I don’t think you’ll see the brinksmanship. I think he can head it off at the pass."

Dickinson: "Do you think McCarthy has this in the bag?"

Salmon: "His biggest test is gonna be the first day of Congress and getting the votes. So what I expect he’s going to do over the next month is basically listen to members concerns, and that includes the Freedom Caucus. They’re a big block. They can they can they can totally undo him— or they can be his biggest champion. But I don’t think what he would have to compromise or giveaway would be all that painful to him. I think there can be a win/win. I think if he appeals everybody’s better nature, givest them a seat at the table, puts some of the Freedom Caucus members at the seat of power— making Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Chairman, and throwing some bones— He’s gonna go a long way toward making a good and successful Speaker."

Yesterday, McCarthy was on Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. He told her he’s spent hours meeting with the Freedom Caucus to get the votes he needs to become speaker. “Right now,” he said, “it’s actually delaying our ability to govern as we go. So I’m hopeful that everybody comes together, finds a way to govern together. This is what the American people want. Otherwise, we will be squandering this majority… If people don’t come along, that’s going to delay our ability to secure the border. That’s going to delay our ability to become energy independent. That’s going to delay our ability to repeal 87,000 IRS agents. That’s going to delay our ability to hold government accountable. There’s no subpoena that can go out until that gets done.”

bottom of page