A Matter of Principles: Mark Meadows Speaks Conservatism

Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, talks about his support for Israel, the need for the House Freedom Caucus, and on why sticking to principles over party is important.

U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows at CPAC, 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr

The first 100 days of Donald Trump’s Presidency have begun, and the President has wasted no time implementing his agenda. But there is someone else who also has a plan for the first 100 days of the new administration: Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, who represents North Carolina’s 11th district located in the Western part of the state.

His plan lists more than 300 rules, regulations, and executive orders for the President to examine, revoke and/or issue (the last one on his list being an executive order to move the US embassy to Jerusalem). Meadows writes that Americans are losing their liberty and becoming the subjects of a regulatory state with each passing administration. In the last administration alone, “there were close to 4,000 finalized regulations, costing an estimated $980 billion and adding thousands of paperwork hours to private businesses, States, and the federal government.”

After years of running small businesses, including a sandwich shop and a real estate development company, Meadows ran for Congress in 2012. Recently re-elected to his third term, Meadows, a warm and easy going individual, has been unyielding in the principles he believes in, even at the cost of going against his party’s leadership. He is most well known for his part in the events which lead to the resignation of former House Speaker John Boehner, in October 2015.  Three months prior to Boehner’s resignation, Meadows filed a resolution to vote on whether Speaker Boehner should continue as Speaker of the House.  Called a ‘motion to vacate the chair,’ it had only been used once before in the history of the House of Representatives, in 1910. Had the resolution been filed as a ‘privileged motion’, the House of Representatives would have been forced to vote within days either in support of or against John Boehner. However, since it was filed as a ‘non-privileged motion,’ the resolution did not force an immediate vote. Nonetheless, the motion began an internal discussion in the Republican Party which eventually led to Boehner’s resignation.

Meadows is currently the chair of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), which was established in January 2015 by nine House republicans [including Meadows], with Ohio Congressman, Jim Jordan, as its chair.  Its mission statement says: “The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans.”

Currently, the HFC has 40 members and has become a powerful bloc within the Republican Party.  While Republicans control a comfortable majority of 240 seats in the House of Representatives, the Republicans cannot reach the 218 vote majority needed to pass legislation without the HFC’s 40 votes. Thus, HFC’s input on legislation has and will continue to be necessary on legislation that doesn’t receive strong bi-partisan support.

Meadows’ colleague and former chair of HFC, Rep. Jim Jordan, told Mida this about Congressman Meadows: “Mark is a true statesman and one of the best members working in Washington. He’s a hard worker, a happy warrior for conservatism, a good friend, and he truly cares about people. What I like about Mark is that when he says something he means it – he’s here to do exactly what he told his constituents he’d do when they elected him to serve.”

Recently, Jordan and Meadows penned an op-ed in The Hill titled ‘No more excuses, Republicans’ where they implore their Republican colleagues to fulfill the will of the voters who sent them to Congress and list ten specific issues that need handling. The upcoming Congress will test Republicans and their ability to follow through on the agenda that they have put forward.  I sat down with Congressman Meadows a few days after the inauguration to discuss the HFC, Conservative values, and his support for Israel.

Conservatives are compassionate people

Conservatives believe that there should be fewer government programs, and as a result some point out that people with conservative beliefs are not compassionate people since they are against government programs, many of which assist the less affluent people. How do you respond to this criticism? 

“In order to answer that you have to have one premise and that is to assume that the government can handle those that are in need better than anybody else – I don’t accept that premise.  Throughout our history and throughout Jewish history, it has not been the government that have helped those in need, it has been their neighbor, their synagogue, and in my particular instance my church, who really reaches out to help the widows and the orphans. No one has spent more time than I have helping those in Africa, and across the globe, that are in need, so to be a conservative and to be compassionate are not mutually exclusive terms. It is just a matter of whether the help is provided by individuals as opposed to being provided by the government.”

“In the US, and really across the globe, I find most people are very generous and willing to help. In fact, if anything, the Jewish constituency that I have is more philanthropic and more giving in terms of truly trying to help meet other people’s needs. But once the government takes the place of people helping, everyone seems to sit back and say ‘Well let’s let the government do it, instead of us working as individuals’.”

“I have found that government programs typically create government dependency. Having grown from very humble means, it was not the government that helped me grow. It was relationships and people that I trusted who helped me out along the way coupled with hard work, and a strong work ethic. What it comes down to is making sure that we are fair and provide people with opportunities to get out of poverty by providing a helping hand. But in the US today, we see how government programs often take advantage of the generosity of the US taxpayer.” 

What is your barometer for the necessity of government programs?

“When the scope of the difficulty is so large that it would require a response that cannot be handled by a local community, a local synagogue or church or by the private sector, is the only time when government should get involved.”

“I would like to see a partnership between the private sector and the government, where there is also some level of personal responsibility of the recipient so that it’s not all government dollars and it’s not all private dollars, you leverage both to help those who need a helping hand.”

Rep. Mark Meadows during an interview with Gideon Israel

The HFC gives us strength

Among the values of the Republican Party are limited government and fiscal responsibility. Why would there be a need for a specific House Freedom Caucus? Wouldn’t these members of Congress vote the same way regardless?

“We talk about iron sharpening iron; it is phrase that we get to use quite often.  We are only able to undergird each other with mutual strength. Thus, you and I may have a particular belief that we agree on, but the weakness that you would have or that I would have to bend some on those particular aspects are harder to bend if there is a group of 40, versus a group of one or two.”

“Additionally, the freedom caucus encourages us as a Congress to do the right thing, and I’ll give you a prime example. Many Republicans believe that the UN is both anti-US and anti-Israel with its votes and yet, year after year after year, we continue to fund that entity regardless of how it votes, and we provide between 24-26% of its entire funding.  We continue giving money to a group that votes against the US over 56% of the time.  Sometimes, our job requires us to make sure that when we take a stand because of our convictions that we actually act on those convictions and having a group of 40 people allow us to negotiate regarding those convictions more effectively.”

“Israelis may have a better understanding of this, since in the Knesset you have a coalition government, we don’t have a coalition government, though some have suggested that we would better served with a coalition government — I disagree. But in having the freedom caucus we have found that for some of the principles that are important to us, we are able to use the leverage of 40 of us coming together to stress the importance of passing legislation that is certainly a priority, not only for the 40 members of the caucus, but many times for the vast majority (of Republicans). Sometimes it’s having the intestinal fortitude to do what you know is right in the face of adverse potential consequences.”

You have spoken at length that Republicans need to listen to the voters that sent them to Washington. Why do you believe other Republicans weren’t listening to the people that sent them there? Was it a loss of values or purpose? 

“I don’t think it is a loss of values as much as it is a tactical decision. Many times they have the same values and purpose, they just believe there is a different way to accomplish it. You have the same argument in Israel all the time, as to the question of how to obtain peace. There can be 20 different opinions on how to achieve peace — while some are very passionate that it can only be via a two state solution, some are equally passionate that it can only be achieved by a single-state solution and every opinion in between. I don’t know that this is any different than understanding that while we have a common goal, we may have very different views on how to get there.”

“For most of us, we see that things happen slowly on Capitol Hill, so from a tactical standpoint we believe that action is more appropriate than inaction, so I don’t say it’s any difference in values or purpose, though sometimes there may be a member who represents a constituency that is much more liberal than my constituency, but for the most part I think it’s how do they see accomplishing the task and what do they define as success.”

My allegiance is always to the voters

You are a representative of the 11th district of North Carolina – a specific constituency; on the other hand you are a member of the Republican Party. If your allegiance is to your constituents, what, if anything, is the meaning of your connection to the Republican Party? 

“My allegiance is always to my constituents and never to a party.  It’s up to me to help mold what the party is, based on the constituents that I serve, versus changing my constituents to be what the party is. The very fact that I am a Republican and that I happened to be a representative of the people of Western North Carolina — more conservative than some — makes it incumbent upon me to move my party closer to them rather than the other way around.  Hopefully, when you bring everything and everyone together, the Republican Party will then be a reflection of the people, or in this administration, what they have been saying, a more populist stance than necessarily a conservative stance.  I think it is a populist stance with a conservative foundation. But if we are to be a representative form of government, then to go anywhere other than to follow the will of the people is losing the value and purpose that you mentioned.” 

You were punished for voting against leadership — should there be a punishment for a Member who votes against leadership’s wishes? 

“There should never be a punishment for voting the will of the people. That is what I did, I voted the will of the people. We are a representative form of government and it’s not appropriate that when I’m truly voting the will of my constituency, I get punished and it’s certainly not the way things should be done. To do otherwise would be to be putting party over people, and most Americans have a strong distaste for that.”

I strive to be a champion of Israel

What is the source of your support for Israel? Is it biblical, strategic, political?

“I’m what you would call an evangelical, so for me it comes with deep roots in terms of my faith. They say God blesses those who bless Israel and God curses those who curse Israel — I take that literally. But even beyond that, my support for Israel is based on being able to speak up for a persecuted people that many times didn’t have a voice. What I have is a passion for and compassion for Israel which is unyielding and unflinching. There are three types of people in Congress: those that are pro-Israel, those who are advocates for Israel and those who are champions of Israel, it is my desire to always be a champion for the Jewish people and of Israel.”

“I’ll share a story: I was on the banks of the Danube River in Hungary and I saw a (Holocaust) memorial there made of bronze shoes. Being there and seeing this memorial was a very moving time for me because of the story, which is a true story, on which the memorial is based. The Nazis would actually tie three people together and, as they were tied together, would shoot the two on either end so not to waste a bullet on the middle person, (since when the two would fall into the river, they would pull down the third one who would drown). Before shooting their victims, they would force them to take off their shoes, because they saw the shoes as having value. I made a commitment that as long as I am in Congress, never again will the most valuable thing about a Jewish life be their shoes, and so each day I wake up and say what can I do for the Jewish people and for Israel. My support for Israel is not only part of the fabric of who I am, but it is also a part of me that is unyielding and unchanging.”

On your website you write that supporting Israel is your number one foreign policy priority. How can supporting Israel be one of your strongest priorities where there is China and Russia, and stronger allies like the UK and France — how does Israel become number one?

 “If you make a decision based on geopolitical considerations, then certainly it would seem strange, but I can tell you that Israel is my first priority, so whether I am talking to China, or Great Britain or the Muslim brotherhood, the statement is the same: that we must stand with the nation of Israel and we must honor our commitment to be a strong ally in support of her interests, because it is not only in their interests, but it is in the interest of the US. Certainly, there are conflicts in any foreign policy initiative, but my commitment to Israel is unyielding and unchanging.”

It seems that that Republican support for Israel is stronger than Democratic support for Israel – is bipartisan support for Israel in Congress sustainable? Is there a values divide between the Republican and Democratic parties which simply won’t allow for the same level of support?

“It goes back to your earlier question, if you stand for what is right and stand for principles that are right and true, ultimately what happens is that you change the hearts and minds of other individuals.  To go the other way, just to get bi-partisan support, would be to undermine the values and the priorities that are critical. So I think we stay firm to the values and priorities that are true and then we can bring Democrats along. I can tell you that I went to Israel not too long ago — it was a bipartisan trip — and one of the individuals, who was a Democrat, has a totally different understanding of what it means to be pro-Israel after the trip. But you have to do it in a respectful, kind and courteous way, one that persuades others to join you.”

The two state solution is the conventional wisdom for reaching peace between the Israelis and the Palestinian, do you share in that view? Are there alternatives?

“I see a number of alternatives. I personally don’t share the two-state solution view even though I know that that is the official view of the US and the Israeli governments. But I look at recent history — giving back Sinai, giving back Gaza, didn’t bring peace. Until there is truly a willingness to accept the Jewish state and work with them, I don’t see the two state solution being a solution for peace. Hamas is not going to allow peace and neither is the Palestinian Authority.”

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3 comments on the article

  1. This is an amazing, extraordinarily well-crafted interview. Like a guided missile, it hones in on what’s important for Israelis to know. It cuts right to the chase, namely the underlying values and thinking of the true conservatives of the Republican party. This is an interview rich in ideas and values.

    It introduces concepts of liberty that are poorly understood in Israel, even reviled, such as “…the government can handle those that are in need better than anybody else – I don’t accept that premise.” Can you imagine an MK saying that? One could conduct an entire interview about that idea alone.

    The interviewer extracts chochma from Congressman Meadows on a quality sorely lacking in elected officials worldwide “…if you stand for what is right and stand for principles that are right and true, ultimately what happens is that you change the hearts and minds of other individuals.” Principles? Principles! Ah, it feels so wistful.

    Maybe Mida can arrange for the good Congressman to come here and give lessons to 120 MKs. Oh wait, he’s got a lot to do in Congress on that, probably generations worth of work. And, we actually do have some MKs with principles. Most certainly those on The Joint Arab List. I’ll be happy for someone to highlight others. Anybody? Anyone? Don’t hold back? Feiglin? But he’s not in the Knesset. Who else? Anyone?

    And then there is the most magnificent point of all, the one from which Israelis can learn the most but have experienced the least: “My allegiance is always to my constituents and never to a party…To do otherwise would be to be putting party over people, and most Americans have a strong distaste for that.” Well, America may be across the Atlantic but this type of thinking, the very idea of it, seems galaxies away from here.

    I hope Mida sends Mr. Israel out for many more interviews, and I wish Mida would translate much more of its content in English for the website. Keep up the good work!

  2. Really important article – well written. If only more Congressmen would listen to the voters who put them in office. Let’s hope these next four years are great for both the USA and Israel.

  3. Great interview – insightful and well written. Looking forward to reading more like this!