What he wants may not always reflect what many of his constituents say they need. In Meadows's district, roughly 98,837 (13 percent) of his constituents were on Medicaid in 2015 — a program from which Meadows voted to slash more than $800 billion in the now-dead American Health Care Act. In 2016, there were 60,647 people, about 8 percent, on food stamps, roughly one-third of whom (19,617) would lose assistance under a House budget proposal, which Meadows says does not go far enough on welfare reform.
Dawn Reed, a 49-year-old Mitchell County resident, raised her hand during a constituent meeting with Meadows.
"Are there any plans for revamping Social Security, SSI, and disability? There are so many people on these programs, and it doesn't cover everyday living expenses," she said. Reed is on Social Security; two of her four adult children are also on welfare. She says a lot of people around her are too. Except it's getting harder and harder to make ends meet.
"People think that it's so easy to get on these programs and you get this big fat check. No. It doesn't work that way," Reed said, unknowingly unraveling some of the main arguments that conservatives — and Meadows — have made against a bloated welfare system for decades.
Meadows only reiterated the president's promise to leave Medicare and Social Security untouched, before launching into a mild tirade about Social Security's lack of accountability.
But back in Washington, Meadows supports a Freedom Caucus proposal that would make deep cuts to both food stamps and cash assistance — Rep. Jim Jordan's bill, which would harshen work requirements on adults without dependents as well as extend work requirements to adults with children — as a means of finding savings for tax reform and other Republican spending priorities.
Meadows also voted in favor of Medicaid cuts in the House's health bill, claiming they wouldn't affect his constituents in North Carolina — a non-Medicaid expansion state. That's not true. The AHCA put per capita caps on Medicaid funding, which would have resulted in cuts across the board.
"The people who rely on those services, who have become accustomed to those services as part of their lives, of course they don't want them to change," Matthew Wechtel, 47, the Madison County commissioner, said. "No one is opposed to giving people a hand up; what people resent it giving people a handout."
Meadows's constituents believe Trump when he says he represents the "forgotten man and woman." And many with a hatred for Obamacare trust him when he says he will protect their needs — regardless of the policy work he's actually doing back in Washington. It's part of the widely reported tension in the lives of white working-class Trump voters — Americans who support candidates who work to cut the social welfare programs they depend on.
"These people don't like to work," said Freddy Penland, 71, a Yancey County resident and former county commissioner, referring to people benefiting from social safety net programs. "They don't work. They get too much assistance."
Reed, who asked for bolstered Social Security, said she voted for Meadows — he's a "go-getter" she said. You'd hear it over and over again — people believe Meadows will do the right thing.
Meadows says he is "sensitive to the needs that are out there from a safety net perspective." On protections for people with preexisting conditions, which were weakened in nearly every iteration of the health care bill, he says to trust him.
"Since I have been a member of Congress, I have lost my sister to cancer," Meadows told me. "Preexisting condition was a big deal. To suggest that I am willing to look the other way on preexisting conditions defies not only what I have stated [but] who I am." The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan body which evaluates the impact of legislation, warned that the House's health care bill would lead to people with preexisting conditions having to pay more for health insurance.
The following day, touring a fire station in Granite Falls, North Carolina, talk had just turned to draining the swamp when the room momentarily fell silent. Grace Chapel volunteer firefighter John Taylor, a mustached man in uniform, looked to Meadows matter-of-factly.
"When you fear us, there's liberty," Taylor said. "When we fear you, it's tyranny."
"I'm gonna quote you," Meadows replied with a smile.
Can the Freedom Caucus govern?
Hours after the Senate failed to pass its three attempts at Obamacare repeal, I found myself asking Meadows what had just happened.
He had been on the phone with senators all day. The senators themselves, asked to comment on GOP leadership's final health plan — a skinny repeal of Obamacare — would point to a conversation between Meadows and Sen. Lindsey Graham. Ryan's comments seemed beside the point.
It felt familiar, a recognition of their leverage. But what makes Meadows and the Freedom Caucus powerful is what puts the entirety of the GOP's agenda at risk.
When Republicans return from August recess, they will have to tackle the debt ceiling, their budget, tax reform — and possibly a resurrection of Obamacare repeal efforts. Meadows has staked out his position on all three of those fronts, none of which have enough support from the Republican conference overall.
Meadows says if Republican leaders do not agree to sweeping changes to welfare programs and a tax plan that slashes corporate tax rates and doubles standard deductions for everyday Americans, the Freedom Caucus will not vote for the budget — a must-pass vehicle for tax reform. Already, Meadows has declared some minor victories, being in part responsible for killing the border adjustment tax — one of Republicans' few ideas to pay for massive tax cuts.
Meadows may be the perfect vehicle for Trumpism in the House, but he is not, thus far, the master of getting ideas passed into law. Unlike John Boehner, when faced with the Freedom Caucus's obstructionism, Paul Ryan does not appear likely to turn to Democrats for compromise. When Meadows says no, the whole train stops moving.
Meadows could deliver huge conservative wins over the next year, or he could crash what's left of the Trump agenda. That's how this works.
When Ryan says a vote is all or nothing — that you can either vote for the proposed plan to replace Obamacare or don't, making Obamacare the "law of the land" — Meadows's response is that there's no such thing as a "binary choice."
Any time you don't have the votes, "negotiations aren't totally over," he says. Not, at least, until Meadows says they are.