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By today, Meadows means six sore days after he was punished for crossing the House Republican leadership with the loss of a subcommittee chairmanship. Booting members from plum positions is Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) disciplinary measure of choice, in part because there is little else he can do these days to remind conservatives who sets the agenda.
But by Thursday morning, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) had reinstated Meadows to his subcommittee post, returning the gavel on government operations.
The clash between Meadows and leadership came to a head when the congressman and 33 other conservatives voted against a procedural rule during the trade debate, nearly sinking the effort at a delicate time for leadership. Three members of the group were kicked off the the GOP whip team in retribution, but Meadows was the first to lose a gavel.
Meadows shuddered when describing Wednesday’s meeting of House Republicans, where Boehner praised the decision to demote him and tangled with an angry Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who organized the conservative rebels. “There was no clapping at that,” Meadows said.
More intrigue was expected on Thursday. First-term Republicans met at the behest of Boehner’s lieutenants, and Meadows believed the members would use the gathering to strip Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) of his title as freshman class president. But that didn’t end up happening.
To conservatives, Meadows’ ouster signaled that Boehner was energized for a serious new crackdown on his party’s right flank. But reversing course will likely only embolden the rebels further in future breaks with the leadership over legislation.
Perplexed at being the symbol of the controversy, Meadows shot to prominence in the last week. He’s receiving text messages from presidential candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), hosting a rally in North Carolina with Ben Carson on Tuesday and will have completed about 15 live media hits by the end of the week. For an obscure House sophomore known primarily to viewers of Greta Van Susteren’s “On the Record” (he’s a semi-regular guest), it’s a swift rise.
In spite of this, it is not hard to see that the loss of the chairmanship pricked Meadows, a lawmaker who runs on friendship, delivering bombshells with a hug. Nicknamed “Sunshine” by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Meadows is the rare tea-party upstart who seems genuinely dismayed that his votes will affect his ability to rise in committee ranks.
In the schoolyard environment of Congress, he is also seeing personal fallout, he said.
“I feel for some of my colleagues who know that the speaker is supporting this decision and now think having lunch with Mark is not necessarily a proper or good thing to do. I’m sensitive to that. I’m letting them off the hook and letting them know that they don’t have to have lunch with me,” Meadows said.
Meadows, a former real estate broker and sandwich shop proprietor, has made trouble for GOP leadership since he arrived in Washington. In 2013, he penned the defund-Obamacare letter widely credited with rallying support for the government shutdown. Earlier this year, he opposed Boehner’s reelection for speaker and vowed to stop donating to the National Republican Congressional Committee after fielding attacks from an establishment GOP group.
News of his demotion has turned him into a martyr on the right — the good boy to Boehner’s good old boy.
“Leadership punished Mark Meadows for voting his conscience and doing what the voters elected him to do … Mark Meadows [is] a good man, a good friend, and what they did to him is exactly wrong, and there are a number of us who are fed up with it,” Jordan told radio host Laura Ingraham this week.
“They want to enforce their rules,” Ingraham replied. “This is what the mafia does. I’m sorry, but this is a political mafia [running] up on Capitol Hill.”
In candid moments, Meadows can’t help but defend himself on the merits, like an A-student smarting at a college rejection. He takes pains to describe his industry and discretion, saying he suffered a slow freezing out by leadership in humble silence.
“There is nobody who works harder to prepare for any of our hearings. In terms of full participation, only Chairman [Darrell] Issa and John Mica had better attendance records than I did, and I serve on three committees,” he said.
“I want to work with the leadership today,” he continued. “I’ve worked very diligently to supply conservative votes on some of the appropriations bills. Apparently, in the Appropriations [Committee] meeting last week, they called out my name and said, ‘Mark has really been trying to work with some of the members that can provide support. Then, the next day, you get the bad news.”
Meadows, both nurturer and agitator, said he’s ready to console Buck if he is punished, too.
“I cried last night as [staffers] gave me literally hundreds of emails that have come in from my district that were so encouraging,” he said.
“The American people always wonder about this stuff. They watch House of Cards and say, ‘Is that real?’ To my knowledge, nobody has been shot or killed at this point. But there is a whole lot of backroom deals that get done on a regular basis … My hard work will pay off again. But is this personal? The answer is yes.”