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The Freedom Caucus wish list: From healthcare to the war in Ukraine, can they get what they want?

The group’s agenda isn’t always in line with Congress’ mainstream Republicans.

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Freedom Caucus 360 OVERVIEW

By Leah Askarinam - Senior Editor

Members of the Freedom Caucus — the far-right House Republicans setting themselves up as a de facto third party — won’t get what they want from this Congress; there just aren’t enough of them. But the policy debates and political messaging they are a part of are key parts of the historical record to understand before the 2024 election season begins in earnest — as well as the coming debates over government spending.

The current class of House Republicans may be laying a foundation for 2024, when Democrats face a treacherous Senate map and President Joe Biden faces reelection, and for policymaking in 2025.

Freedom Caucus 360 THESIS


The Freedom Caucus has, at times, put itself forth as a distinct part not just of Congress but of the Republican Party. They have specific policy priorities that are distinct from the broader Republican Party. Members of the caucus have already signaled they are willing to use their power as a large caucus within a narrow majority to get what they want. Based on a close reading of public statements and policy positions, this is what the Freedom Caucus wants.

Health Lens

At the far right of the GOP agenda on abortion and pandemic response

By Dan Vergano - Science Reporter

Ukraine Lens

Stop Vladimir Putin — but don’t use U.S. funds to do it

By Tom Nagorski - Global Editor, Joshua Keating - Global Security Reporter

The Freedom Caucus has no formal position on Ukraine, but it’s not hard to divine where its members stand, thanks to a steady stream of comments since the war began. The caucus arguments, in a nutshell: less U.S. money (some say no money at all) for the Ukrainian resistance, more accountability for any U.S. funds that are pledged and more work to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Perry took some shots at the Biden administration (among other things, suggesting U.S. weakness had encouraged Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion), but much of what he wrote sounded like White House talking points: He called Putin “a thug, a murderer, and a tyrant,” argued that Ukraine “has the right to defend itself” and said “harsh words … and half-measures” wouldn’t be enough to reverse Putin’s aggression.

Biden and his NATO allies wouldn’t have argued with any of that.

But Perry’s overall prescription was limited to measures that would be cost-free for Washington. He said the U.S. should sell weapons to the Ukrainians rather than gift them, impose heavier sanctions against Russia and urge Germany to pressure Putin — and that these actions could persuade Putin to negotiate. And while Perry argued the U.S. had to “present clear, consistent, and convincing consequences to bullies,” he added this phrase: “without committing American lives or bankrupting our Treasury to do it.”

This has been the mantra of the Freedom Caucus when it comes to Ukraine: Press both sides for a deal, and — most importantly — stop writing checks and sending weapons. It’s an approach that follows in the footsteps of Trump, who often derided U.S. allies for not doing more to pay for their own defense.

A slowing of U.S. aid for Ukraine could have devastating effects for the resistance. U.S. deliveries of aid and weaponry have consistently helped tip the battlefield balance, and American generosity has helped pressure other nations to make shipments of their own. Dialing back could turn the tide of the war in the Russians’ favor.

But Perry and his caucus face two fundamental problems when it comes to influencing U.S. policy on the war.

First, Perry’s own prescriptions in that “Red Menace” editorial haven’t aged well. The idea that the Ukrainians could have afforded to buy NATO weapons is nonsensical; the West has indeed imposed heavier sanctions against Russia, but these haven’t persuaded Moscow to negotiate or scale back its war aims. As for countering that “thug” in Moscow, U.S. and NATO weaponry have been essential; whereas one could argue that Perry’s “cost-free” approach to the war would have resulted in a Russian victory by now.

Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, believes the Freedom Caucus positions on Ukraine are shortsighted.

Climate Lens

Against climate change regulations, but few ways to follow through on it

By Dave Levitan - Climate Reporter

Beyond that, the caucus’ efforts to stymie climate action are more likely to manifest as a lack of action. After the last Congress’ historic moves on climate change, including both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the strictly partisan Inflation Reduction Act, the next two years are likely to involve essentially no forward momentum on the issue — a state of affairs that much of the Republican majority likely favors about as much as the Freedom Caucus members.

Education Lens

Education as an avenue for culture wars

By Sophie Tatum - Politics Reporter

During the covid-19 pandemic, schools became the epicenter of the modern-day culture war. What started as debates over when and how to safely reopen schools and whether to require masks in the classroom eventually turned into larger conversations over the actual material taught in classrooms, issues that members of the Freedom Caucus took quick positions on and rallied behind. The biggest one? Critical race theory.

The term critical race theory, or CRT, became a flashpoint for Republicans arguing against certain materials being taught in schools, after the country was forced to grapple with a racial reckoning in the summer of 2020.

Although CRT was developed several decades ago by legal scholars, it took on a new life over the past couple of years when Republicans looked to ban it from school curricula. But others, including the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), argue this kind of restriction is a limitation on free speech.

In 2021, the Freedom Caucus took on CRT as part of its agenda — officially stating it would not support any spending package that funded CRT, writing: " … the House Freedom Caucus took an official position to oppose any funding bill that does not defund Critical Race Theory (CRT) based trainings for federal employees,” adding that “CRT training is out of step with the law and our values.”

As part of the push against CRT, members of the Freedom Caucus have also used the opportunity to endorse “parental choice” in education — support for less federal intervention and strong support for “school choice” — in line with traditional Republican views. But it’s unclear what might become a priority for the Freedom Caucus at the national level for education in this upcoming Congress.

The debate over CRT continues to play out in the states. Just this week, the Florida College System presidents “publicly supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vision of higher education, one free from indoctrination, an environment open to the pursuit of truth and the cultivation of intellectual autonomy for all students,” according to a statement. DeSantis is one of the founding members of the Freedom Caucus.

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