NC’s Mark Meadows: The Right’s new ally in the West Wing

By: - March 12, 2020 5:30 am
Rep. Mark Meadows (Image: C-Span)

WASHINGTON — North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows has a new job in the White House — a promotion that could elevate the status of the Tar Heel State in the eyes of the president and strengthen ties between the Trump administration and conservatives in Congress.

President Donald Trump announced Meadows’ appointment in a tweet Friday, saying “I have long known and worked with Mark, and the relationship is a very good one.”

With his new office in the West Wing, the four-term lawmaker from the rural western tip of the state is in a position to raise issues of importance to North Carolina and bring North Carolinians into the president’s sphere.

The last North Carolinian to hold the post was Erskine Bowles, who served President Clinton in the late 1990s, according to Eric Heberlig, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Meadows could also heighten Trump’s sensitivity to the politics of the state in year when it is poised to play a pivotal role in the presidential election, said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.

North Carolina is one of six tossup states in the country, according to the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks campaigns and elections. The state’s 15 Electoral College votes represent a fraction of the 270 Trump needs to win — but are about 15 percent of the 102 votes that are most up for grabs.

“It’s really nice to have a fellow North Carolinian from the delegation in the administration, particularly as chief of staff,” GOP Rep. David Rouzer told Policy Watch in a brief interview on Capitol Hill. “He and the president have a superb relationship, and I think that will be beneficial to the state and to the country, too.”

GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx added: “I’d say it’s a real plus.”

‘I’m sure we’re still going to talk’ 

Another group that stands to benefit from Meadows’ promotion: House conservatives.

Meadows was ranked the most conservative member of the House in one recent analysis. He previously chaired the House Freedom Caucus — a band of roughly 40 GOP hardliners — for three years before stepping down from the post last fall. Though no longer in the majority, caucus members still hold sway in the lower chamber, thanks in part to their vocal defense of the president. Their influence could grow now that their former leader is officially one of the president’s top advisors.

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who was the Freedom Caucus’ first chairman, told Policy Watch that he expects the group’s lines of communication with Meadows to remain open, despite his new role in the White House. “I’m going to try not to bother him because he’s a busy man, but we talk all the time,” he said, adding: “I’m sure we’re still going to talk.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. But Meadows told Policy Watch last fall — as rumors were beginning to swirl about his possible move down Pennsylvania Avenue — that the group of hardliners is “more relevant than you might imagine.”

Meadows’ predecessor in the White House, ex-Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, was also a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and met with caucus members as Trump’s acting chief of staff, according to Matthew Green, a political science professor at Catholic University of America and author of a book about the caucus.

But Meadows could strengthen House conservatives’ ties to the White House even further, he said, noting that he was the “animating spirit” of the caucus and served as its chairman longer than anyone else. Unlike Mulvaney, Green added, Meadows does not appear to have other responsibilities in the executive branch, which could make him more accessible to members of Congress.

Mulvaney, on the other hand, “wore a lot of different hats,” Green said. In addition to being acting chief of staff, a role he held for a little over a year, he is also the current director of the Office of Management and Budget and former interim chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was named U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland earlier this month.

Meadows may also make the White House more accessible to more liberal lawmakers, Green said. He is charismatic and well liked in the chamber, he said, and is known for his friendships with Republicans and Democrats alike, such as the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

As chairman of the Freedom Caucus, Meadows softened the group’s confrontational edge, which paved the way for deals with more moderate Republicans, Green added.

‘Trump-first’ strategy? 

The White House chief of staff oversees the executive office of the president and is a member of the president’s Cabinet, but the role remains undefined by law and tradition, Taylor said.

Chiefs of staff serve as presidential “consiglieres” and often take on responsibilities such as managing the day-to-day operations of the White House, overseeing policy priorities, determining who has access to the president, and speaking on the president’s behalf in public and in the media.

Meadows assumed the position last week and is now in the process of transitioning into the new role, his former spokesman Ben Willisamson said. Meadows was among the lawmakers who decided to self-quarantine after coming into contact with an attendee at a conservative conference who tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Heberlig of UNC Charlotte expects him to follow Mulvaney’s “Trump-first” strategy and defer to the president on matters of policy, even if they disagree over taxes and spending or other issues.

Meadows will be Trump’s fourth chief of staff in three years, following Mulvaney; John Kelly, a retired four-star general of the U.S. Marines; and Reince Priebus, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Green doesn’t expect the notoriously difficult job to be easy for Meadows, despite his strong ties with the president and his reputation as the “Trump Whisperer.”

Two Republicans — Lynda Bennett, who was endorsed by Meadows, and Madison Cawthorn — are vying for their party’s primary nod to fill Meadows’ congressional seat, according to Blue Ridge Public Radio. They will face each other in a runoff on May 12, and the winner will face Democrat Moe Davis in the fall. Meadows won his 2018 re-election bid by about 20 points. A special election could also be called to fill the seat before next year.

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Allison Stevens

Allison Stevens, DC Bureau Reporter, Allison covers the nation’s capital for States Newsroom’s network of news outlets. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, campaigns and elections, and the Supreme Court. [email protected]