Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is a frustrated man.
He’s frustrated that the Senate is taking the lead in the immigration debate. He’s frustrated that the Republican Party is presiding over a period of exploding deficits and rising debt. And he’s frustrated that the scandal over ousted White House aide Rob Porter could have compromised national security.
But he’s not quite ready to admit that the GOP’s bitter spending battles against the Obama administration between 2010 and 2016, which led to debt limit scares and shutdowns, were a complete waste of time.
“I don’t know that any debate is a waste of time,” Meadows said in the latest edition of the POLITICO Money podcast. “I do believe that any time that you fold at the eleventh hour, which many viewing this as a fold at the eleventh hour, in a fiscally irresponsible way to grow the size of government, then that’s problematic and that’s why I didn’t vote for the final deal.”
Meadows said rising deficits and increasing debts will soon become an existential threat to the economy.
“There is a day of reckoning that will come economically when we have a hard time selling Treasurys or when the yield on those Treasurys gets so high that it creates an unsustainable interest curve that we can’t service,” he said.
On the immigration debate, Meadows ripped the idea that the Senate would be the first to craft a bill and then send it to the House, but he walked backed earlier comments that seemed to suggest he would support deposing House Speaker Paul Ryan over the issue.
“Any suggestion of a coup on the speakership is not only not what I said but was not in the context of what I said,” Meadows said. “I think it’s incredibly important that the House go ahead with a conservative immigration bill. And to suggest that the Senate could beat us to a vote on that particular initiative would indicate that we are being derelict in our duty to represent the people in the people’s house.”
Meadows rejected the argument made by Democrats, economists and some Republicans that reducing the amount of legal immigration — which the White House supports — would be bad for an economy at nearly full employment.
“That’s a rising-tide-floats-all-boats kind of mentality,” he said. “There’s certainly an argument, in some sectors where that actually happens, but to suggest that that is across a broad spectrum, I don’t know that any economist would suggest that.”
On the rolling White House scandal over the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, Meadows mostly defended embattled chief of staff John Kelly and said he has not spoken to President Donald Trump about joining the administration as a replacement for the current chief of staff.
“At this point, the president has a chief of staff that he is very satisfied with, and in my conversations with the president I have no inclination that he is going to make a move to get a new chief of staff,” Meadows said. “I can tell you that he has not talked to me about it. And there have been plenty of opportunities for us to discuss that.”
Meadows said the focus of congressional oversight of the Porter matter will be on whether the former staff secretary’s access to classified material without a permanent security clearance put the nation at risk.
“The real question becomes, ‘Did this classified or partially classified clearance put any of our national security secrets at risk?’” he said. “And certainly we’ll be looking at that from an oversight standpoint.”
Meadows said he’s more hopeful now that Republicans can retain the House given improved poll numbers. But he said if they don’t, it could spell the end of the Freedom Caucus.
“Certainly if we are in the minority the Freedom Caucus becomes less influential,” he said. “The Freedom Caucus when you are in the majority has an out-weighted influence here on Capitol Hill. In the minority I don’t see that as being a direct correlation to power because everybody can be unified and be against something when you are in the minority.”