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Politics & Government

Hardline Conservatives Strategize At Rare Pre-Election Meeting

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

No matter who wins on Tuesday, one group of Republican lawmakers is already looking past the presidential election. The House Freedom Caucus, 40 or so of the most conservative members of Congress, held a rare, pre-election strategy meeting this week in Washington. We reached Dave Brat on his cellphone back in his Virginia district. He backed Donald Trump early on and is a member of the Freedom Caucus.

DAVE BRAT: The mission statement of the House Freedom Caucus is just to try to pass legislation that's helpful to the American people. And that's been our message for two years. And, you know, people call us conservatives or right-wingers or call, you know, names and all that kind of thing. But people could just go Google the top five issues.

MONTAGNE: Well, those top five issues - in a single line, can you rattle them off?

BRAT: Yeah. I mean, the economy and jobs is just No. 1, by far. And then small business regulation is way up there. Obamacare is the No. 1 issue if you go door to door and say, what's hurting you? It's very clear to the average person that they're going to get the short end of the stick coming up in 10 years. And they want someone to put up a fight up in D.C. on their behalf.

MONTAGNE: You support Donald Trump, but you have to be considering - if Hillary Clinton wins, what is your next move? Are you going to be able to cross the aisle to work these things out?

BRAT: Well, I certainly hope so. If they want to work on any of those issues, I'm all in. What would compromise look like? In D.C., compromise only means one thing. It means more spending on everything so that you can get a yes vote, right? And then you look good, and you can get more money.

MONTAGNE: Four years ago, the Republicans conducted an autopsy on the party's failure to win the presidency. Are you thinking, yet, of lessons learned? And if so, what are you taking away from this campaign?

BRAT: If you can get our Republican elite to go along with the middle class and the small guy, then that's the lesson I see. It's very clear what we have to do. But I don't see any other way. The autopsy report on when Romney and Ryan lost said we ought to be scared of Hispanics, scared African-Americans, scared of women - you ought to be scared of your shadow. I mean, boy, that's the most dreary, pessimistic thing I ever heard.

I went to seminary. African-Americans are 90 percent Protestant. Hispanics are 95 percent Catholic. We all share the exact same first principles. If you can't win with that, I mean holy moly...

MONTAGNE: Well, scared of is one way of putting it. But another way I believe it was translated, that autopsy, was including all these groups. But that doesn't seem to be happening this time.

BRAT: Trump has made some indelicate remarks. I disagree with those. I've made it very clear. But inclusive up in D.C. has a bunch of meanings. But basically, when it comes time for the hard vote, say, on illegal immigration - what does it mean to be inclusive? Does it mean you violate the law of the land in order to be inclusive? That, in my view, would be a huge error.

Or does it mean you're inclusive and say, hey, let's welcome everybody. But let's have a rational system where we vet people and you don't allow people who are a national security threat. The Republican Party is the party that believes in the individual under the law. We've got to maintain that or you lose the country.

MONTAGNE: Republican Congressman Dave Brat represents Virginia's 7th District.

Thank you very much for joining us.

BRAT: Hey, anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.