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‘Free market capitalism as America First’: Inside Barr’s pitch to lead House Financial Services Republicans

In World
February 17, 2024

Rep. Andy Barr said in an interview Friday that he has officially decided to run to replace House Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry — and started pitching himself as a leader who could reconcile warring approaches to Republican policy.

The Kentucky Republican has been weighing whether to enter the race since Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), who had been seen as a leading contender, said he would retire instead. Barr said that he has since received “enough positive feedback” from House leadership, GOP steering committee members and Financial Services colleagues throw his hat into the ring.

Now Barr has started shopping his plan for the committee: Bring together “traditional, Chamber of Commerce, free trade, capitalist” Republicans and those from the “America First, populist, fair trade wing” that has gained prominence since the rise of former President Donald Trump.

“My objective would be to use the House Financial Services Committee chairmanship to end the battle between these two wings: Unite them and forge a lasting, durable, permanent center-right majority in the country that binds these two groups together in unified opposition to socialism, and unified opposition to big government liberalism,” Barr added. “Everything we do in the committee should be about promoting free market capitalism as America First.”

He cited specific ways that the committee could help bridge the gap, including by messaging on credit card swipe fees (“competition is free market capitalism, but regulation is not”), free trade agreements (“to most effectively counter China, we need more, not less”) and immigrant labor (“border security and streamlining legal immigration are not incompatible”). He also pointed to his ongoing effort to meld China hawks’ proposal to reduce U.S. investment in key sectors with his own, narrower legislation.

He said his message has gotten a positive reception from House Republicans: “Everyone thinks we need it.”

Barr is expected to face off against Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) and French Hill (R-Ark.) for the job of top Republican on the committee. All three are well-liked subcommittee chairs who also share similarities in ideology and seniority — meaning that the race will likely come down to other factors such as their visions for the role and relationships with leadership. The latter could give Barr an edge given his close personal relationship with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), according to aides and lobbyists who were granted anonymity to candidly discuss the race.

Scalise did not respond to a request for comment.

In talks with members, Barr is also touting his long track record of fundraising for the party — “not just when I’m running for chairman,” he said. He also shut down rumors that he could abandon the bid to run for Senate if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides to step down.

“If my colleagues in the House want me to lead the Financial Services Committee, that’s my priority,” he said.

Barr has already identified specific goals for the committee — assuming Republicans keep the House majority. First up would be conducting oversight of the Federal Reserve’s approach to price stability. Next would come pushback on regulators’ proposed changes to capital requirements for banks. He also wants to crack down more on environmental, social and governance-based investing; attach more conditions to housing aid; reduce government spending on the National Flood Insurance Program; give Congress more control over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and roll back regulations around investing.

“There’s so much damage that [SEC Chair Gary] Gensler has done: We need to undo that damage and then go on offense, and start democratizing investing,” he said.

Barr said that he would also prioritize enacting McHenry’s bills governing stablecoins and regulation of the broader crypto industry if the current chair is unable to enact them this session.

“That would be a top, top tier priority for me if we don’t get that across the finish line” this year, Barr said, though he added that “there may need to be some tweaks here or there.”

Barr said that if Republicans lose the majority, he would pivot from those priorities to a focus on oversight — something he said he’s equipped for after chairing the oversight subcommittee. He added that he has a “pretty darn good relationship with the ranking member on a personal level,” as well as other Democrats on the committee.

The ranking member, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), did not respond to a request for comment.

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