Rosendale says Montana Freedom Caucus will be ‘tip of the spear’ in pushing conservative agenda

By: - January 20, 2023 5:12 pm
Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale of Montana speaks at the Montana Freedom Caucus kickoff event on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.

Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale of Montana speaks at the Montana Freedom Caucus kickoff event on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

Montanans will see benefits from laws made by the newly created Montana Freedom Caucus “for the next several decades,” Republican Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale promised a group of supporters at the state Capitol on Thursday evening.

Rosendale, himself a member of the House Freedom Caucus, headlined the kickoff event for the caucus of right-wing lawmakers who announced they had formed the group earlier this month. 

There are 14 public members of the caucus and others who did not want to publicly be identified, said committee chair Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton.

Dozens of supporters packed the old Supreme Court chambers at the state Capitol, applauding speeches from Manzella and Rosendale, who is fresh off his fight to block Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from becoming House Speaker until he and some Freedom Caucus holdouts gained rules concessions.

Rosendale told the group the Montana Freedom Caucus would be “the tip of the spear” in pushing an ultra-conservative agenda, but they needed backing from supporters in order for it to be fully realized.

U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana, speaks with a person attending the Montana Freedom Caucus kickoff event on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.
U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana, speaks with a person attending the Montana Freedom Caucus kickoff event on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

He said he expected the group would be a unified and organized voice of the people in protecting their free speech and religious and health freedoms from government interference.

“Because folks, the radical left is trying to destroy your families. They’re trying to keep us from practicing our faith, and they’re trying to brainwash our children,” Rosendale told the crowd. “And it’s really those three things that you can encapsulate that we are all fighting.”

Rosendale and Manzella said the Montana Freedom Caucus is now one of 12 in states nationwide, and they expect more to form in time. 

Rosendale said the state groups will share information with one another and would receive support from the House Freedom Caucus, though he told reporters after the event when asked about providing financial support: “I haven’t even given that a thought whatsoever.”

Manzella said Rosendale had called her to ask if she was interested in leading the caucus. She said the House Freedom Caucus put potential members through a “stringent” vetting process – looking into their past voting records and backgrounds.

“Because they do not want to be embarrassed by any skeletons that we might have in our closet or people who might claim to be conservative but really aren’t,” she said.

Manzella said 80% of the caucus’ members must agree to take up an issue before drafting legislation. Republicans have a supermajority in the Montana Legislature, and the Freedom Caucus represents the facet that is pushing for the most conservative measures.

Manzella listed priorities for the caucus as election integrity (the four Republicans on the select committee on election security are members of the caucus), parental rights, working to give more than $2 billion in surplus money back to taxpayers, blocking foreign land ownership in Montana, promoting school choice, and judiciary reform.

Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, applauds the members of the Montana Freedom Caucus at an event on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.
Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, applauds the members of the Montana Freedom Caucus at an event on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

“How many people know that we have problems with our judges?” she asked. “We pass conservative laws, and they deem them unconstitutional.”

Manzella said the caucus wanted to be engaged with its supporters in letting them know what’s going on behind the “smoke and mirrors” at the Capitol.

Sen. Barry Usher, R-Billings, said the caucus was taking pledges but had yet to decide if it would set up as a political action committee to raise money or as something else. Darin Gaub, the chair of the Lewis and Clark County Republican Central Committee, will serve as the caucus’ state director.

Rosendale, a former state lawmaker now in his second term in Congress, said Washington, D.C., was “a world away” from Montana during his speech to the crowd. He detailed his fight to gain concessions during the Speaker fight, saying it was about “redistributing power across all of Congress so everyone had an equal voice.”

He told reporters afterward the concessions he received were changes in the rules package that passed the Monday after the fight ended, with nearly all Republicans voting in favor.

“Which was the single-subject legislation, the ability to propose amendments on the floor as long as they were germane to the subject matter, to make sure we had a true 72 hours to consider legislation,” he said. “So, all of those things, we were granted.”

Manzella compared Rosendale’s fight alongside a few other House Freedom Caucus members to George Washington leading the Continental Army across the Delaware River to the Battle of Trenton, in what is recognized as a major turn in the Revolutionary War.

“When I think about what Matt did, it’s nothing short of saving our country,” she said. “He … turned the rules around, turned the caucus around and said, ‘We will not be silenced.’”

Rosendale told the supporters and caucus members they needed to have a plan, be able to adjust those plans on the fly, stay involved, and stay bold. He said the caucus needed to stay together, and the public needed to stay with them.

 “And then, you will have an incredible, incredible impact for this state that people are going to, again, enjoy for many decades,” he said. “I can promise you that.”

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Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.

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