It’s no secret that President Trump is sick of Mark Meadows.
Meadows, a Florida native, represents Western North Carolina minus a small, liberal arm which juts into Buncombe County, chairs the Freedom Caucus, a group of 35 or so of the most conservative members of Congress. The caucus played a crucial role in blocking House Speaker Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), drawing the full force of the President’s Twitter wrath.
Meadows has been a fixture on the 24-hour news cycle ever since.
But this isn’t Meadows’ first time in the spotlight. After coming into office in 2013, despite his rookie status, he made waves by working to defund Obamacare, ultimately leading to the infamous government shutdown, a move which increased his profile on Capitol Hill.
However, Meadows remained generally unknown outside of North Carolina and Washington, D.C., until in 2015 when he filed a motion to get John Boehner to vacate his Speaker of the House seat. Meadows’ Deputy Chief of Staff Wayne King said that he was hit with a wave of emails as soon as the news broke.
“My phone literally crashed because I had so many emails coming in,” King said.
Now Meadows has again emerged as a thorn in the side of mainstream Republicans, and as a result, he is in high demand on the national front. King said Meadows’ staff received 600 interview requests in one day after Trump’s latest tweet storm.
“It was the single biggest day we’ve ever had,” he said.
Meadows visits his district
Despite all the turmoil in the capitol, Meadows flew into Asheville last Thursday and visited for the weekend. He said that when he’s home, he likes his sole focus to be spending time with his constituency.
“We have to spend so much time in Washington, D.C., I can’t come back and sit around and do nothing,” he said.
After beginning his day early Friday morning with a couple phone calls, Meadows attended events across multiple counties, starting with a trip to the Asheville UPS shipping center, where he awarded two drivers the company’s most prestigious safety award.
During his speech, he joked about the day he rode around with UPS delivery person during one of his “A Day in the Life of” work days and how hard he found the job to be. He even had a little fun at one driver’s expense who hadn’t told his colleagues it was his birthday. Meadows outed him to his peers.
“A little-known fact about Mark is that it’s his birthday,” Meadows told the workers. “I’m going to give you a birthday song that we do on Capitol Hill, and you’ll like it because it’s not the typical one,”
“This is your birthday song, it doesn’t last too long. Hey!” he sang through the laughter of the crowd.
It was a song that perfectly matched the characteristically short speeches of the blue collar UPS employees who — although they enjoyed their Congressman’s visit — were eager to get back to work.
When Meadows arrived early to his next event at West Henderson High School, he and King waited in a stuffy classroom for 15 minutes, during which they sat through the daily announcements and strategized on their cell phones.
“Normally we don’t arrive so early, so this is nice,” King said.
Once the 100 or so teachers and students, many of whom were in a journalism class, settled into their seats in the library, Meadows pushed the podium aside and greeted them with a speech that highlighted the importance of responsible journalism.
“The power of the pen is to transform and inform … it’s more than a 140-character tweet,” he told them, giving a slight nod to the President’s Twitter habits.
After giving a demonstration on how a bill becomes law, complete with an explanation of how lobbyists attempt to affect policy, Meadows opened the floor to questions. The students took advantage, presenting well-studied inquiries.
“I was extremely impressed with how well they researched,” Meadows said following the event. “They asked very insightful, detailed questions like a seasoned journalist.”
Student Regina Babor, a junior, said that although she thought he dodged a couple questions, she was generally happy with his answers.
“All in all, I thought it was pretty valid,” she said.
Meadows ended his visit by ensuring the future voters that he will be more engaging on social media than his colleagues.
“We’ll do some Instagram and some tweets from here and maybe even we tweet at Donald Trump,” he prompted. “What do you think?”
The students huddled around Meadows and took a group picture which students rushed to post on social media. One teacher even brought up the idea of accompanying the photo with the hashtag #FreeTheCongressman.
He spent his early afternoon at UNC-Asheville eating a quick lunch and addressing the Council of Independent Business Owners (CIBO) at its a monthly gathering — an event that has featured both Gov. Roy Cooper and former Gov. Pat McCrory. Meadows used most of his time at the podium to rehash and reaffirm his stance on the latest healthcare bill, much to the delight of those in attendance.
Meadows’ ability to shift gears throughout the day — from bantering with blue collar workers to captivating a group of often-fickle students to rubbing elbows with some of Buncombe County’s most influential business owners and politicians — showed that he has a strong desire to be accepted by his constituents.
But not quite everyone shares the love. Regional progressive groups have protested at each of Meadows’ district offices in recent months. Those groups have invited Meadows to an April 23 town hall in Waynesville — one he said he will not attend. He added that he holds his town halls at the same time every year, and that’s what he intends to do this go-round.
“The town hall that we had last August, where were they then?” Meadows asked, adding that he would be willing to hear the group’s concerns and talk policy via either social media or a conference call.
Chelsea White of Progressive Nation WNC said the problem with not doing a town hall face to face is it allows for a higher level of censorship, considering the questions are handpicked by Meadows himself.
“You saw this with Thom Tillis’ most recent town hall,” she said.
Meadows believes the passionate outrage building within progressive groups in the district is largely due to Trump’s election.
“This is more, ‘We want to hold a town hall to express our concerns about the results of the Nov. 8 election,’” he said. “It’s not as much about a member of Congress and where their position is … I don’t know that anybody that wants to hold a town hall is ambiguous about where my position is.”
White agreed that much of their outrage is fueled by the election of Trump, but added that they have valid concerns to present to Meadows, as well.
“I think that’s a fair statement,” she said of Meadows’ comments regarding Trump-fueled anger. “But I also think it has a lot to do with Meadows’ rhetoric and that he wants to do away with Obamacare and Medicaid.”
Meadows has numerous issues with the health care bill he helped torpedo, including the lack of community ratings, which enable the determination of a geographical area’s insurance rates based on factors such as average age, tobacco use, income and possibly even gender. But beyond that, he noted how unpopular the bill was.
“It has a 17 percent approval rating. So those on the left and those on the right, they don’t like it … That 17 percent approval rating, that rivals Congress,” he joked.
He also acknowledged that whatever solution is drummed up, it needs to include a safety net for the most needy.
“We’re a compassionate society,” he said. “And we want to make sure there’s a handout for those that are struggling, and we don’t have to go any further than our community to be able to see that in a real way.”
When confronted by a man at the CIBO lunch who was curious about why it has taken the party so long to come up with a plan after criticizing Obamacare for seven years, Meadows admitted that Congress should have had a bill ready to go by Trump’s inauguration.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t stick by the most recent delay. Meadows noted he would rather stand against a bill he so profoundly doesn’t support and even risk getting voted out than giving in and passing a bill which he said doesn’t address the real issues. He has even drawn some criticism for saying Congress should work through its Easter recess to figure out the bill.
“We stay in Congress, we stay there and we get it done,” he said. “We put differing opinions in the room. My offer to the moderates is if you give us community ratings, we’ll give you something else that’s important to your district.”
Ultimately, he said he anticipates a partial repeal and a partial replacement which would take parts from various proposals and bills introduced by multiple factions of the Republican party.
The Presidential feud
Because of his stand against the AHCA, Meadows has also found his way into President Trump’s bad graces. According to various news outlets, Trump warned Meadows in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, saying, “Oh Mark, I’m coming after you.”
As recently as last Wednesday, the President attacked Meadows and other Freedom Caucus members multiple times on Twitter, saying “If @RepMarkMeadws,@Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform,” and “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
“It was meant to say, ‘Well, I’m serious, we’ll find somebody to run against you,’” Meadows said. “What is lacking in that is I’m not fearful of doing the right thing just because I may get voted out of office. That’s the whole reason Washington, D.C., doesn’t work for the American people.”
Although Trump may support a candidate to run in the 2018 primary against Meadows, the Congressman doesn’t seem too afraid. He also noted that some of the issues which have caused turmoil within Republican circles emerged before Trump even came into the picture.
“I think the party was already a little bit divided with people like Rand Paul. It was more Tea Party and Libertarian-minded people on one side and mainstream on the other side,” Meadows said.
Because of the way the district is drawn and how well Meadows appeased his base, whether or not Trump props up a Republican to run against him, he still seems confident, which makes sense considering he performed slightly better in Western North Carolina than Trump did in 2016.
Haywood County Republican Party Chairman Kenneth Henson, who noted that he generally supports the President, said he thinks any candidate Trump would run against Meadows would not stand a chance.
“I believe if Trump stays in line with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, he will have a greater chance of being primaried out than Meadows,” he said. “It would weaken Trump more than it would weaken Meadows.”
Although it isn’t known how popular Meadows will continue to be in Washington, D.C. or his district, it seems he is determined to find both limelight and controversy.
“We’re going to continue to debate the facts, but when you can’t debate the facts, sometimes you take incoming fire, and I have been accustomed to that over the last week or two,” he said.
Although his relationship with the President is currently being tested, he said he thinks they will find plenty of common ground in the future.
“I think that the Freedom Caucus will be there a lot more for the President’s agenda than other members of the Congress,” he said. “But I acknowledge that this particular debate has put a strain on it, the relationship.”
Despite the fact that 44,500 of his constituents receive healthcare because of the ACA and could lose their coverage if it is repealed, he maintains strong support in Western North Carolina, even if things appear otherwise on Trump’s Twitter page.
“I could respond to it, or I could continue to focus on what I always focus on, and that’s the people that I serve,” he said. “I decided to take the latter. It does come as a surprise when the President singles you out and tweets about you individually, but in the end, I’m not going to be affected by a 140-character tweet.”
By Kyle Perrotti