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Rep. Warren Davidson On The Path He Sees For The Freedom Caucus After The Midterms


The Republican House Freedom Caucus is widely considered to include the most conservative members in Congress. And depending on how tonight's election plays out, that caucus could grow even if overall House Republicans lose seats tonight. Joining us to talk about how the party's most conservative members are planning their path forward is Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio. Welcome.

WARREN DAVIDSON: Thanks for having me on, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So let's say the Republicans do lose seats tonight - sorry to start on a downer - but the House Freedom Caucus actually grows. It could be a larger percentage of the overall Republican conference. Do you think your caucus should try to exert more pressure in shaping the priorities of House Republicans next year?

DAVIDSON: Well, first and foremost, we need to stay on offense. And the key to that is holding the House. Otherwise, the House pivots to defense, and the whole agenda is set back. So, you know, we're focused on getting out the vote, playing a team sport here and making sure our team stays in control of the House of Representatives.

CHANG: Totally fair, but let's say House Republicans do lose seats for next year and your caucus ends up growing proportionately within the Republican conference. Do you think the House Freedom Caucus should exert more pressure in shaping priorities?

DAVIDSON: Well, as long as we're holding the majority and we're - we have a speaker and we're still on offense, of course. And I think, you know, the key to the energy that you're seeing in the turnout is to the extent that we've done what we said we would do, which is what the president's done. And what really has gone underreported is that this Congress has been very effective in implementing the agenda.

CHANG: Well, what if Democrats end up in control of the House and the two sides would only be further apart if conservative Republicans become even more vocal next year? I mean, do you think the House Freedom Caucus should turn into a raucous minority within a minority party?

DAVIDSON: Well, I think we need to do what we promised to do. I mean, frankly, the Freedom Caucus is the Republican wing of the Republican Party. We're in an era that's maybe characterized by a lot of populism. And the Freedom Caucus has focused on principles - certainly popular arguments right now. And that's part of why our caucus is likely to grow.

CHANG: Well, let me touch on something that one of your leaders told NPR last week. Last week, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told us that if Democrats retake the House, that would mean there would be even less room for, as he put it, free agents. Those are his words. These are members who go against Republican leadership. What do you make of Scalise's view that if Democrats retake the House, that a caucus such as yours should tone things down, fall into line and try to get along a little better with the rest of the conference?

DAVIDSON: Well, frankly, no one I've talked to in Congress - Republican, Democrat or otherwise - has had their districts say, go to Washington, D.C., and follow orders. Everyone says, go represent us. And I think that's what we need to do. Whatever the character your district is - you know, Carlos Cabello is a Republican. I hope he's coming back. I mean, he's obviously much more moderate than the Freedom Caucus is. He represents Miami. I'm glad he's a Republican. I hope he does his very best to represent his district. But we need to have a party that's big enough to let us vote our districts and not just follow orders.

CHANG: I suppose what Scalise means is is it productive for a minority within the Republican conference to be fighting with the rest of the conference while the Republicans are fighting against the new majority in the House?

DAVIDSON: I think the point for the Freedom Caucus is we need to do what we promised the voters we would do, and that's different for each district. And in the Republican platform, if you look at what the Freedom Caucus advocates, we're generally the ones, when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness, doing what's popular or following the terrain, we check the compass and say, hey, we better get back on azimuth and do what we promised to do. It's the same thing that if you go out into a corporation - where lots of our listeners are at today, or maybe coming home from work - the sales team in a meeting will sometimes speak up and say but this is what we promised the customer. And that's what you need to do.

CHANG: Well, with House Speaker Paul Ryan retiring, who do you think should lead your party moving forward in the House?

DAVIDSON: Well, I think we've got a range of options. Jim Jordan is running for speaker. I think he'd be a great speaker. What I know is that, right now, no one has the votes, and right now, we don't have a speaker's race. Paul Ryan's our speaker. Today, we'll know whether we're going to hold the majority, or hopefully today we'll know. And first and foremost, it's a team sport. We want to stay on offense, and we need our folks to continue to get out and vote Republican so we can keep implementing the agenda that's got our economy roaring, peace and prosperity and lots of good opportunities in the years ahead.

CHANG: All right. That's Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio. Thanks very much.

DAVIDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.