Forced to govern, a fierce partisan warrior gets pragmatic

Meadows is also getting plaudits from some Democrats who say he listens to them, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree to their requests. When Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin received a phone call telling him he was selected to serve on a White House coronavirus economic task force, he said he didn’t understand and asked to speak to Meadows.

“He was very candid,” Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “It’s such a contrast. When I read the clippings or watch the news, I see a different Mark Meadows than the person I met.”

In the past, Democrats and even some Republicans believed that Trump’s top advisers, including Mulvaney, didn’t have the authority to negotiate on behalf of Trump. During the longest-ever government shutdown that started at the end of 2018, Mulvaney was involved in the early failed negotiations.

Meadows’ influence during negotiations of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March was a sharp contrast. Though still technically a House member at the time, Meadows helped Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House legislative director Eric Ueland guide the legislation to a place where conservatives and the president could support it along with Democrats.

It was the sort of bill that Meadows might have been tempted to vote against while in Congress. But now he has the kind of responsibilities that come with governing.

“He’s certainly conservative, but also pragmatic,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.).

Whether Meadows can succeed again in the coming weeks as talks heat up on the next bill is uncertain. And despite his work with Democrats of late, there have been flashes of the old Meadows.

Meadows was involved in the decision to block Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, from testifying before a House panel last week. Meadows pressed Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) for more details about the hearing but was unsatisfied with the response, and the White House deemed the hearing “counterproductive.” Meadows then orchestrated a hearing with Fauci to take place Tuesday in the more friendly Republican-led Senate.

“You don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner to understand why the House committee that funds health programs wanted Dr. Fauci to appear at a hearing entitled ‘Covid-19 response,'” said a spokesman for Lowey.

As a member of Congress, Meadows — one of Trump’s fiercest defenders and earliest Hill backers — used the Freedom Caucus to pull his party to the right, often torpedoing GOP leaders’ plans on spending bills and other measures. He orchestrated the push that led to Speaker John Boehner’s abrupt resignation in 2015.

And Meadows has brought some of the Freedom Caucus with him to the White House. He hired former Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a co-founder of the group, as a senior White House adviser. And Meadows tapped three former Freedom Caucus aides to work in the West Wing.

But Meadows and his fellow rabble-rousers in the Freedom Caucus have also shown they can unite with GOP leadership — working closely to defend Trump last year after Republicans lost the House and Democrats’ impeachment drive ramped up. GOP lawmakers believe Meadows’ new team-player attitude will carry over to his White House gig.

“He and [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy have come a long way,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.). “They’re building a bridge, working together. And that’s productive for the entire conference.”

But House Republicans are in the minority now and have limited influence. Ultimately, Meadows will be judged on if he can help Trump weather the coronavirus crisis — and get him reelected this fall.

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