As candidates vying for Congressional District 17 gathered in College Station to make their case to Brazos County’s Republican voters ahead of the primary election, the question that divided those on stage was whether or not they plan on joining the Freedom Caucus should they be sent to Washington D.C.
At a Tuesday night forum hosted by Grassroots Victory 2020, Young Conservatives of Texas at Texas A&M, and Empower Texans, nine of the race’s 12 candidates showed up to answer a series of questions, ranging from fiscal policy to healthcare to immigration.
The most visible divide of the evening, however, came when the moderators asked a “lightning round” question: if elected, will you join the Freedom Caucus?
Trent Sutton was quick to say “no,” and he was joined by fellow candidates Todd Kent, Scott Bland, and Renee Swann.
Those who answered that they would join the Freedom Caucus should they be elected were Elianor Vessali; David Saucedo; Kristen Alamo Rowin; and George Hindman, who replied with an emphatic “hell yes.”
Candidate Laurie McReynolds said she did not know if she would join the caucus or not.
Not in attendance were Ahmad Adnan, Pete Sessions, and Jeffrey Oppenheim, who dropped out of the race the next day. Sessions, a former congressman, was not a member of the caucus during his tenure in office.
The Freedom Caucus was founded in January of 2015 by what U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R–OH) described as a “smaller, more cohesive, more agile, and more active” group of conservative congressmen. Since then, the caucus has been instrumental in forcing policy debates on the floor of the House over policy issues such as debt ceiling increases as well as races for House leadership.
They’ve also been active and aggressive defenders of President Donald Trump.
While the caucus does not disclose its members, Texans who have identified themselves as members of the caucus include U.S. Reps. Chip Roy, Michael Cloud, Randy Weber, Louie Gohmert, and Ron Wright, all of whom are among the most conservative lawmakers in Congress.
The caucus, however, has its enemies, including outgoing U.S. Rep Bill Flores, who currently holds the CD 17 seat. In a Facebook post on Friday, Flores said that while he has yet to endorse any candidate in the race, he had decided to give $2,000 each to Bland, Sutton, and Swann.
Part of his stated criteria for his ideal replacement includes someone who “Will NEVER Surrender their House of Representatives Voting Card,” a criticism often levied at the caucus by more establishment Republicans.
The next candidate forum will take place on Tuesday, January 21, at 6 p.m. at Texas State Technical College in Waco.