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U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, is facing an uproar from some in his party after warning about "grifters" and liars among fellow conservatives, including in the House Freedom Caucus.
Crenshaw, one of the most visible members of the Texas congressional delegation, sought Thursday to clarify his comments, which came at a Houston-area GOP gathering over the weekend.
“When I said grifters and liars, I wasn’t talking about the Freedom Caucus," Crenshaw told the GOP podcast "Ruthless." "I was talking about a general group of people that exists on our side."
The Freedom Caucus is a group of House conservatives who hold considerable sway within the GOP minority. It includes at least a few Republicans from Texas, like Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler and Chip Roy of Austin.
Crenshaw made the original comments at an event Sunday in Cypress for the Texas Liberty Alliance PAC, and a clip of them went viral later after being tweeted by Ron Filipkowski, a Florida lawyer and former Republican. Crenshaw was introducing two congressional candidates he is supporting and sought to differentiate them from "performance artists" in Congress who he said say what conservative voters want to hear. He then sought to make the point by arguing that U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — a prominent GOP critic of former President Donald Trump — actually voted more in line with Trump's agenda during his first two years in office than did "everybody in the Freedom Caucus — all of them."
"We have grifters in our midst," Crenshaw said in the clip. "I mean in the conservative movement. Lie after lie after lie. Because they know something psychologically about the conservative heart. We’re worried about what people are gonna do to us, what they’re gonna infringe upon us."
The comments drew denunciations from Freedom Caucus defenders and even from a key supporter of Crenshaw in his 2018 underdog run for Congress — Houston radio host Michael Berry.
"No, I do not support [Crenshaw]," Berry tweeted Tuesday. "I am embarrassed I helped him win."
Discussing the Freedom Caucus on the podcast Thursday, Crenshaw said there are "definitely some in there I don't like, obviously, but for the most part, no," he said he was not referring to the caucus with his weekend remarks. He offered praise for Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the current vice chair of the caucus, and went on to say he was mostly referring to people who "messaged knowingly falsely about" recent legislation to improve the sharing of data nationally about vaccinations.
In the full video of Crenshaw's remarks Sunday, he indeed went on to cite the immunization bill, which passed with the support of Crenshaw and 79 other House Republicans. Crenshaw said the proposal would decrease and "put guardrails on" funding for existing vaccine databases that do not track Americans individually. Some GOP opponents of the bill claimed it would create a new vaccine database.
"So you've got less money for it and more guardrails that requires you in the law to make the data anonymous," Crenshaw said. "So the real question is why did so many Republicans vote against that and then lie to you about it? Grifters."
One of the Freedom Caucus members from Texas, Roy, brushed off the uproar surrounding Crenshaw, saying the media "wants to focus on palace intrigue rather than the issues hammering everyday Americans."
"Dan is a good friend, and we can agree to disagree on some things," Roy said in a statement. "I am confident in standing behind my record and the record of the Freedom Caucus of successfully fighting for the people we represent — including this last week protecting against drafting our daughters, preventing our service members from dishonorable discharge, and fighting a dangerous [Department of Defense] office of extremism, among other things."
Crenshaw made the original comments while seated alongside Wesley Hunt and Morgan Luttrell, two Houston-area congressional candidates and fellow veterans that Crenshaw is backing. Hunt is running for Texas' new 38th District, where he has been the frontrunner, while Luttrell is vying in a crowded primary to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands.
Luttrell's race is particularly relevant to the Freedom Caucus controversy. One of his competitors is Christian Collins, who has committed to joining the caucus and has already received over a quarter-million dollars in support from a caucus-aligned super PAC.
Correction, Dec. 10, 2021: A previous version of this story listed U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo, as a member of the House Freedom Caucus. His office says he is not a member.