Over the past two weeks, a small group of House conservatives punched way above its weight.

First, its members managed the ouster of House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, by forcing his hand in the debate over whether to shut down the government. A week later, they helped eliminate Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from the party nominating contest to replace Boehner, after deciding to back a little-known candidate who vowed to make some long-coveted changes to House rules.

It’s an impressive record for the House Freedom Caucus, which until recently was a relatively loose-knit group of 30 to 40 hard-liners whose main goal was to stop compromises with House Democrats.

But in recent months, enraged by a series of undercover videos about Planned Parenthood, they evolved into a more cohesive – and more powerful – movement. Now, they may hold the key to who becomes the new House leader.

In the race for speaker, the caucus is demanding a complete overhaul of the rules and procedures governing the House. Caucus members say they want a speaker who will listen to all sides. But in reality, they are looking for a leader that will hand them more control over the agenda.

“Just treat every individual fairly so we can all be legislators instead of having to kiss rings every time we want to get something done,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, one of the group’s unofficial leaders. “We asked them to stop making the speaker the one who makes all of the decisions.”

Led by soft-spoken Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the Freedom Caucus isn’t interested in the old way of doing business, where seniority reigns and a small group of veteran members controls which bills come to the floor.

These conservatives – many of whom came to Congress with the 2010 tea party wave that handed Boehner the speaker’s gavel – want committees to hear out every piece of legislation. They want every member to have a chance to amend every bill. And perhaps most of all, they want respect.


“That egalitarian approach is very important,” Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said. “At the end of the day, if one comes from a conservative origin, the ultimate litmus test is freedom and liberty.”

But the approach they call egalitarian is similar to what other Republicans deem total chaos. Just one week ago, the group was willing to shut down the government until their colleagues stripped federal funding for Planned Parenthood. They didn’t care that President Obama said he would veto the bill over such language, and they didn’t care about risking the party’s viability in 2016.

Since Boehner’s retirement announcement, the group has developed a list of principles to which it expects leadership to adhere, Labrador said.

Conservatives said they wanted seats on top committees, such as the tax-writing Ways and Means panel, and they sought the chance to draft the party’s agenda through seats on the Republican Steering Committee. They also demanded the chance to offer any amendments on any bill.

Labrador said the group presented the principles on Tuesday to the three candidates: McCarthy, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Daniel Webster, a relatively unknown Republican back-bencher from Florida.

“We thought we were gaining some headway,” Labrador said.

Webster was the only person who agreed. By Wednesday, he had won the group’s endorsement for the party vote. The caucus said on Thursday afternoon that its endorsement still stands, but with developments rapidly changing, it could consider other candidates. And it was never clear whom caucus members would back on the House floor, where the speakership is actually awarded and where a Republican can’t lose more than 29 of the party’s votes to ascend.

Freedom Caucus members who attended the Tuesday meeting later insisted they didn’t make any specific demands.

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