Speaking to hundreds of state legislators from around America and other conservative leaders gathered at the Grand Hyatt in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood, Meadows implored them to recognize a higher calling in their work and noted that the Democrats in Washington, DC, who are pushing to hold him in contempt through the January 6 Committee are motivated by evil.
“You're not here by accident,” Meadows said. “You're here with a special purpose and a calling on your mind. Each one of you who are here have overcome obstacles to serve your state, your country, and your family. It has not all been a bed of roses. What the enemy means for evil, He will make it good. I say that because tonight on the House floor, the Democrats are going to send a clear message that not only should I be referred for criminal contempt but that anybody who is a conservative and supported Donald Trump should be ashamed. They're not going to intimidate me.”
Meadows was delivering remarks as part of the State Freedom Caucus Network's launch of the Georgia Freedom Caucus here–the first of many planned state-level Freedom Caucuses around the country.
“I want to encourage you because I'm encouraged tonight,” Meadows said to open his remarks. “Oh my goodness, in the midst of very difficult circumstances personally, I am so encouraged, because we have freedom fighters from across the country gathered here tonight.”
Meadows referred again to the ongoing House floor debate–which was raging in Congress while Meadows was speaking here–repeatedly throughout his remarks, which were much more general advice to rabble rousing conservatives seeking to disrupt the system and do in their state legislatures what Meadows and his pals, like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and others, were able to do in Washington after launching the U.S. House Freedom Caucus just under six years ago.
“It's great when you start a ragtag group like the Freedom Caucus,” Meadows said. “I was talking to one Democrat who said, ‘The Freedom Caucus has been a thorn in our side for decades.' I said, ‘Well that's pretty hard to do when we've only been around for six years.' He goes, ‘No no no I'm telling you the Freedom Caucus has been here for decades.' I say, ‘Well, I ought to know, Jim Jordan and I started it.' If you want to give them a newsflash and I kind of let him down easy and said, ‘We were kind of informally together prior to the official Freedom Caucus.' But there are three stages to a Freedom Caucus and I just want to let you know because many of you are just embarking on it-whether it's in Georgia or the eastern bloc from Illinois… As we look at that, I'm encouraged to see not only conservatives from Georgia but conservatives from Illinois, Idaho, Connecticut… We got all five conservatives from Connecticut here… You guys have been so unbelievably warm and gracias to me, and I know many of you are praying for me, and as we're here. There are a group of Freedom Caucus members on the House floor debating and fighting for a friend of theirs because of what they see happening to him which is wrong and should not be happening.”
Meadows, a tactician at heart who became famous when his procedural ploy in 2015 led to the ouster of then-House Speaker John Boehner after two previously failed coup attempts by conservatives, gave the state legislators gathered here from dozens of states specific advice from experience on how to fight–and how to win.
“I also want to let you know that the Freedom Caucus–now, many of you know the personalities,” Meadows said. “Originally, it was a phone call I made to Jim Jordan and said. ‘Jim, you call these four people and I'll call these four people' and nine of the 10 decided to be a part. Here is the thing that is critical. Those individuals were not welcomed at the normal parties. In fact, many times where the Republicans have their regular gatherings, they didn't get the invite. Now, many of you may feel the same way because right now they're having all the wonderful get togethers where they work on redistricting and they try to maybe leave you out–I don't know if that's hitting too close to home or what–but as we see this there's all kinds of legislative tricks they use to reduce your voice.”
Meadows said there are three distinct stages to the formation of a successful Freedom Caucus. First, the establishment laughs at and ignores the members.
“There's three stages to this. The first is they when you decide to do your Freedom Caucus they're going to pat you on the head and say, ‘Good for you, you'll never amount to anything.' I mean they will. They'll discount you,” Meadows said. “They'll say it's not going to happen. Ultimately, what has to happen is you have to stick together and not be discouraged. You have to have the procedures on your side and know the procedures and the legislative operational tricks–and I use the word tricks in a tactical way, meaning the way you add amendments and make it difficult for some of your-well let's say less principled colleagues–the ones that have backbones of bananas rather than backbones of steel. I want more backbones of steel, don't you?”
The second and third phases are where things get interesting, Meadows said. In the second phase, the establishment recognizes the threat and tries to neutralize it by co-opting squishy Freedom Caucus members–but in the third phase, when the Freedom Caucus has won, he said that is when conservatives get a seat at the negotiating table and begin to have real leverage to move the needle to the right in big legislation.
“So at first they'll discount you. Then all of a sudden you'll stick together, and there is a second phase of your caucus where they'll try to co-opt you,” Meadows said. “I call this the wildebeest phase. It's like a lion looking for a weak wildebeest–they try to come out at the pack and they come and they get one and they say, ‘There's a Freedom Caucus person who's not acting like a Freedom Caucus person, we can cull them out.' You've seen it. You've seen it already whether you have a Freedom Caucus or not. You see them, all of a sudden they start getting little bills, find their way through committee. They get them all the plum assignments for committees. It is that weak wildebeest we got to be careful about. Because what happens is is you go from not being relevant to them trying to pick off the weak wildebeest to the third phase, which is really fun because the third phase is when they realize you have enough leverage to stop what they're trying to get done and you get invited to the table.”
Meadows said that conservatives, if they organize effectively, can get to that third phase fairly quickly–and said it took the House Freedom Caucus about two years to get there.
“Now I'm here to tell you you can go from being not relevant to being invited to the table in a very short period of time,” Meadows said. “By a very short period of time, when it came to the House Freedom Caucus, it took us two years. Two years to show we were willing to stick together.”
He pointed to a book by Jim Jordan, Do What You Said Would Do–one he was originally going to write with Jordan but had to let Jordan do by himself because now former President Donald Trump called him in to be his chief of staff–as laying out much of the history of this fight. Meadows, who served as Trump's chief in his final year as president, has his own book out now called The Chief's Chief.
“Here's the key: If you do what you said you will do when you campaigned for office, it'll be okay for you,” Meadows said. “It's the people who want to fake it who have such a hard time. They'll campaign one way and they'll go in and legislate another. You get to see them each and every day. They're in your state capitols and it frustrates you because you go back home and look at their campaign sites and they are to the right of you. And yet you know the truth. So with what Andy is doing here, I can tell you we are going to give you the highest support, the kind of air cover that not only will go from the rapid pace of having nothing to having leverage, but we will stand with you and make sure that the wildebeest don't get picked off or if there are some wildebeest you want picked off ,we'll make sure they go home too. It's time to play hardball.”
Meadows also had a few key one-liners that led to a number of standing ovations and applause lines from the audience gathered here in Atlanta.
“I will also say this: Half of the job is just showing up,” Meadows said in one, for instance.
“Nothing good happens in Washington, DC, other than recess,” he said in another.
“I am more than a believer that a state Freedom Caucus will change the way we do things,” Meadows said in another such line.
“Fundamentally if you're not willing to be in the fight, there is no reason to get elected to office,” was another line Meadows said that earned him applause.
Meadows rounded out his speech by telling a story about how when he filed the motion that served as the procedure to rid the Congress of Boehner his son left him a voicemail that was encouraging to him. Even in this moment, he joked about text messages that Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY)–the disgraced former GOP conference chairwoman who was removed from her position and then agreed to Democrats' and Pelosi's bidding on the partisan January 6 Committee–released in the lead-up to Tuesday's vote.
“When I put in that motion to vacate the chair to get rid of the Speaker, it was a lonely place,” Meadows said. “It was one of those things I was just tired of us pretending like we were conservatives and pretending like we were doing something. I said, ‘I'm too old to wait around for somebody to tap me on the head and say you're now old enough to be able to make a decision.' I was in my mid-50s, and they said I was middle-aged, but I didn't realize the average lifespan was 110 years. So, I don't think I was middle-aged, I think I was past that…Occasionally you get confirmation you're doing the right things from the people at the center of your life. For me, it's my family that has to sacrifice. It's my family that has to endure a lot of what my calling is about. My son, when I put in that motion, was really concerned. He said my political career is over with and he said I'll never get elected to another office. Boy, were they wrong there–millions of Americans across this country said finally someone is willing to stand up and stand for the forgotten man and woman. My son left me a voicemail and I kept it until literally I got rid of this phone and got a new phone–I lost the voicemail but obviously I didn't lose a lot of text messages.”
The audience broke out into laughter. When they quieted again, Meadows finished the story and read the quote his son left him–a quote from former President Teddy Roosevelt.
“I lost this, but I still remember what he said when he left me this voicemail. He said, ‘Dad, I'm proud of you'–when your adult son leaves such a voicemail, and he left this quote and it was a Teddy Roosevelt quote, ‘Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.' It was a confirmation,” Meadows said. “It was what I needed to hear in that particular time. When you're a dad or granddad, you know there's a special place when people encourage you that are having to put up with a whole lot.”