House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said he shares President Trump’s frustration with hardline conservative Freedom Caucus members who blocked the Republican health-care bill. Trump tweeted a warning to the group March 30, saying they would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” (Reuters)
President Trump effectively declared war Thursday on the House Freedom Caucus, the powerful group of hard-line conservative Republicans who blocked the health-care bill, vowing to “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections.
In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the Freedom Caucus would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He grouped its members, all of them Republican, with Democrats in calling for their political defeat — an extraordinary incitement of intraparty combat from a sitting president.
There are about three dozen members of the Freedom Caucus, and most of them were elected or reelected comfortably in solidly Republican districts. With his tweet, Trump seemed to be encouraging primary challenges to each of them in next year’s elections.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters late Thursday morning that he sympathized with Trump.
“I understand the president’s frustration,” said Ryan, who has unable to push the health-care bill through his own chamber. “I share frustration. About 90 percent of our conference is for this bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and about 10 percent are not. And that’s not enough to pass a bill.”
Ryan said he had no immediate plans to bring the health-care bill back to the House floor.
“This is too big of an issue to not get right, and so I’m not going to put some kind of artificial deadline on saving the American health-care system from oncoming collapse,” said Ryan, who initially scheduled the bill’s passage for the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s signing.
Trump and his White House advisers have been frustrated by the intransigence of Freedom Caucus members, led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). Trump lobbied them intensively to support the GOP plan to replace President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, only to see the bill collapse last Friday after Meadows and some of his allies said they would not vote for it.
House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) spoke to reporters about the House GOP health-care plan, which failed to come to a vote March 23. (The Washington Post)
“This has been brewing for a while,” a White House official said of Trump’s decision to target Freedom Caucus members and other GOP foes.
Trump has been “paying close attention and keeping his options open,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity to do so. “Our view is: There’s nothing as clarifying as the smell of Air Force One jet fuel. So if he needs to bring in the plane and do a rally, he’s going to think about doing that.”
The official added that Trump and White House aides are “sick and tired” of seeing Freedom Caucus members on television in recent days.
Trump’s threat comes as Republican leaders are bracing for a month of potential GOP infighting over spending priorities. Congress must pass a spending bill by April 28 to avert a government shutdown, but the path ahead, as in recent spending battles on Capitol Hill, is narrow and filled with obstacles.
Beyond that, the same divide that derailed the health-care legislation could imperil the next marquee legislation Trump wants to tackle: tax reform.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Thursday that Trump remains committed to “a bold and robust agenda,” adding: “He’s going to get the votes from wherever he can.”
Spicer said it would be improper for him to comment from the White House briefing room about Trump’s electoral plans.
Most Freedom Caucus members were elected from very safe Republican districts, and many of them faced no primary opposition in their last election. To make good on his threat, Trump would have to recruit GOP candidates to make the case that the Republican incumbent they face was unhelpful to the president.
Though Trump’s job approval numbers are sagging, he remains quite popular in many of the districts from which the Freedom Caucus members were elected.
“He’s irritated,” anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist said in explaining Trump’s decision to lash out at Freedom Caucus members. “During the health-care discussions, the Freedom Caucus would say they’d support him if they got one thing,…