House Freedom Caucus chairman downplays rumored rift with Ryan

The leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Tuesday downplayed rumors of a rift with House Speaker Paul Ryan and praised President Donald Trump’s spending deal with Democratic leaders.

Members of the influential Freedom Caucus “support Speaker Ryan” and hold meetings with him on a “weekly basis,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told PBS NewsHour’s John Yang in an interview.

The House Freedom Caucus chairman has been at the center of recent reports suggesting his group is working with former White House senior advisor Steve Bannon to oust Ryan from his post as House speaker.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal editorial board dared Meadows to run against Ryan for the speakership. In 2015, Meadows led the conservative House Republicans’ push to remove then-Speaker John Boehner from power.

But Meadows dismissed the speculation in the PBS NewsHour interview, saying he only wanted to see Ryan deliver on the GOP’s legislative agenda.

“It’s not a question about leadership, it’s the lack of results,” Meadows said.

Ryan and other GOP leaders were criticized by some rank-and-file Republicans last week after Mr. Trump cut a deal with Democratic leadership on a short-term spending and debt ceiling bill.

Meadows voted against the legislation.

READ MORE: America’s long, complicated history with tax reform

But Meadows on Tuesday spoke positively of the deal, which funded the government for three months, provided Harvey disaster aid and raised the debt ceiling until Dec. 8.

“The president is going to make a deal,” Meadows said. “He’s going to make a deal with anybody who can actually put legislation on his desk.”

The North Carolina Congressman also touched on tax reform, a top priority for Trump and Republicans this fall.

Meadows said the House Freedom Caucus would like to lower the corporate tax to the mid-teens, a rate in line with what Trump has called for. But Meadows acknowledged that if Republicans reach a consensus on tax reform, the final corporate rate “doesn’t appear that it will be that low.”

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Ryan said the corporate tax rate would likely be lowered to the mid-20-percent range.

The ambitious tax overhaul effort — Congress has not passed comprehensive tax reform in three decades — comes as lawmakers also face a deadline to come up with a legislative fix for the program protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The Trump administration last week announced that the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, or DACA, would end next March, giving Congress six months to enact a law to replace it. Nearly 800,000 people are protected under the program, which former President Barack Obama put in place in 2012.

Meadows said a deal on DACA would have to include stricter immigration enforcement measures.

“It really all starts with a secure southern border,” Meadows said. But Meadows demurred when asked if conservatives would push for funding for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, saying the border wall could take the form of tighter security measures, not necessarily the physical structure that Trump promised as a candidate.

Meadows said he spoke to Trump on Monday about the need for a comprehensive and bipartisan bill that will secure the border and enact reforms in a “fair and compassionate way.”