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Is The House Leadership In Chaos? Rep. Schweikert Weighs In

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And we're joined now in our D.C. studio by a prominent congressional conservative, a cofounder of the House Freedom Caucus, Representative David Schweikert. Thanks very much for being here, Congressman.

DAVID SCHWEIKERT: No, this is my idea of fun, getting up this early.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter) Mine as well, so we're a good match. The word chaos is getting thrown around a lot this morning and last night.

SCHWEIKERT: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: Is the House really in chaos? Is the party?

SCHWEIKERT: No. Look, this may be a little uncomfortable for many. But it's been fascinating watching the number of reporters running around Capitol Hill that I've never seen before. The House is still plodding along, doing its work. We have a couple big votes on the floor today. So the mechanics are still working. What is fascinating, if you watched even the floor yesterday, the number of members who are running around talking to each other. So it's one of those unintended consequences of - you're having conversations with members that you typically almost never even crossed their paths.

MONTAGNE: Now, let me ask you, though. Are you talking about members - both Democrats and Republicans? Or are you talking about members within your own party?

SCHWEIKERT: Substantially, our own party, but even the Democrats coming over, hanging out with us saying, what's going on?

MONTAGNE: Well, are you and other conservatives in the Freedom Caucus, in terms of what is ahead, still supporting Congressman Daniel Webster of Florida for speaker? Because that was the vote that may have changed everything.

SCHWEIKERT: Actually, OK, first, House Freedom Caucus took a position to support Daniel Webster. But remember, for most of us - and this is beyond the Freedom Caucus. It's also other coalitions, particularly individuals out there. It was about the right to legislate, the ability to have amendments, the ability to actually have a fair deal on - if you have a piece of legislation where you have the majority of the conference as sponsors, does it have a path to actually get heard? So I know it gets really geeky 'cause it's so much easier to focus on people or personality over process. But much of this is all about process.

MONTAGNE: Well, for the average person who doesn't follow this carefully, what you're saying, I believe, is that the previous leadership - and McCarthy was in that leadership, obviously; he was the majority leader. The previous leadership wasn't allowing bills that you cared about...

SCHWEIKERT: Well, it's actually...

MONTAGNE: To move forward?

SCHWEIKERT: Yeah, you're right to the point. We have House rules. And we were using this Rules Committee to rewrite the rules to create a rule to change your ability to offer amendments. Now, that sounds crazy. But picture this. You have a couple amendments. You would go to the Rules Committee to be able to offer those amendments. And they would tell you, you can't. So they would rewrite the rule, as a bill would go to the floor.

MONTAGNE: OK.

SCHWEIKERT: And what happened is the majority of us as members got frozen out of the process.

MONTAGNE: So still in all, this situation seems to demonstrate the muscle of House conservatives and the Freedom Caucus in particular. Do you feel, then, that no matter what, you all in this Freedom Caucus - you're full hardline conservatives, as some describe you - will have more power, will get more attention?

SCHWEIKERT: Yeah, be careful because that was never the request. Think of this. Daniel Webster is - if you look at his ratings, is actually a very moderate gentlemen. So it was not about choosing the person who is most ideological. It was trying to choose someone, or at least a philosophy of open up the process. Make it more egalitarian. Let legislators legislate.

MONTAGNE: OK, well, now, just in a few seconds that we have left, I mean, what happens now? You do need a leader. Paul Ryan's name - it's quite a well-known name - is out there. Who do you think will in fact rise to the occasion for you all.

SCHWEIKERT: Now - great question. This is where I believe the reporting has been willfully inadequate. It is not, for many of us, about the individual. It is about who will embrace the reforms. If Paul will embrace the reforms, I believe he'll get our votes. If another member who'll say, this - these are the changes that will open it up so every member, from the right to the left to the reformers - 'cause much of this is really reform versus establishment.

MONTAGNE: All right, well, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us.

SCHWEIKERT: No, this is my idea of fun.

MONTAGNE: Congressman David Schweikert is a Republican from Arizona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.