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Freedom Caucus on alert for possible moves against it by GOP leaders

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Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are signing up to take shifts to monitor the chamber floor in order to prevent their own party leaders from making unilateral moves that could curb their power.

The Freedom Caucus’ Floor Action Response Team, shorthanded as “FART,” aims to guard against an unannounced request to pass resolutions that would stealthily limit their leverage against leadership, according to two Republicans with direct knowledge, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly.

While one of the Republicans said the group largely doesn’t expect major developments, members also don’t want to be caught flat-footed if a GOP colleague tried to seek unanimous consent or a voice vote for a resolution that would change the House’s structure. Two potential examples of threats the Freedom Caucus perceives: the removal of its members from the Rules Committee or changes to agreements made at the beginning of this Congress with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

It’s a troubling sign for Speaker Mike Johnson, who’s trying to pass a foreign aid package that deeply divides his conference amid a growing ouster threat from his right. While Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) spearheads that push to boot him, a greater number of rank-and-file House Republicans are calling for changes to the concessions McCarthy gave conservatives in order to win the gavel last year.

The huge amount of intraparty power the former speaker had to give to the right flank is making it nearly impossible for Johnson to govern with his tiny majority, in the eyes of those Republicans.

During a Wednesday meeting with the speaker and the Republican Main Street group, members of that more establishment-minded bloc pitched Johnson on two changes, according to two other Republicans familiar with the matter. The first would remove Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) from the Rules panel — ending an effective conservative stranglehold on the pivotal panel that preps bills for floor debate.

“There were a number of members who told him that he should not allow malcontents to serve on the Rules Committee,” Main Street Chair Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) told POLITICO afterwards.

The second proposed change by Main Street members was to raise the threshold required for majority-party members to force a vote on ousting a speaker from its current number of one. Members of that group argued that McCarthy’s offers to the right — giveaways that ultimately helped end his term as speaker — are handcuffing Johnson.

Notably, Main Street members did not specifically propose that Johnson make those changes as part of debate on the foreign aid bill — but just urged to move as quickly as possible. Even so, the very idea infuriated conservatives, who vowed it would backfire if Johnson pursued them.

“Talking about changing the threshold to the motion to vacate [the speakership] is likely to induce the motion to vacate,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

Gaetz, who is not a Freedom Caucus member, later joined several members of the group in a heated floor exchange with the speaker, during which the Floridian said “we did not get the answer that we wanted” about the changes Johnson might entertain.

Greene put it more bluntly: “Mike Johnson owes our entire conference a meeting. And if he wants to change the motion to vacate he needs to come before the Republican Conference that elected him and tell us of his intentions and tell us what this rule change … is going to be.”

Johnson demurred when asked twice on Thursday whether he was entertaining changes to the threshold of members required to force a vote on firing a speaker.

“I haven’t made any decisions on that,” he told reporters, adding that “I’ve been focused on the substance of the [foreign aid] bill itself.”

Jordain Carney contributed to this report.