Trump, Freedom Caucus turn on each other

President Trump on Thursday used Twitter to rip into the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which quickly returned fire as Republicans turned on one another a week after the collapse of their ObamaCare repeal plan.

Trump threatened to back primary election challengers to the Freedom Caucus members who torpedoed the American Health Care Act, handing Trump a stinging legislative loss in his administration’s first 100 days.

Trump said the conservatives had “hurt the entire Republican agenda,” lumping them in with Democrats he pledged to “fight” in the 2018 midterms.

 

It’s not the first time Trump has criticized the caucus, which doesn’t publicly reveal its membership. But it was his most direct attack on the group yet, and the first time he’d pledged to go after them at the ballot box since the collapse of the repeal effort.

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Conservatives opposed to the ObamaCare repeal bill quickly fired back, criticizing Trump for becoming a victim of Washington’s “swamp” and reminding the White House that the healthcare plan it backed polled a dismal 17 percent.

“It didn’t take long for the swamp to drain President Trump,” tweeted Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashAmash says he's happy not feeling 'bound to a particular party' Amash on Syria: Trump's not ending anything Trump says House Democrats 'unfortunately' have the votes to impeach MORE (R-Mich.), a Freedom Caucus member.

 

“Most people don’t take well to being bullied,” he told reporters. “It’s constructive in fifth grade. It may allow a child to get his way, but that’s not how our government works.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), another conservative who opposed the House GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill, used a mocking tone to hit back at the president over Twitter.

 

“We're on his side,” Massie later told The Hill. “We just feel like he's been misled on SwampCare.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said nothing as he sprinted onto the House floor for the final votes of the week. And Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and one who is usually unafraid to speak his mind, refused to acknowledge reporters' questions about Trump's tweet.

Labrador later responded to Trump on Twitter.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who also opposed the GOP bill and is a leading voice among House conservatives, responded to Trump’s tweet by saying the bill backed by the White House wouldn’t lower premiums, wouldn’t fully repeal ObamaCare, and didn’t unite the GOP.

In an interview on Fox News, he said the Freedom Caucus was trying to help Trump, “but the fact is you’ve got to look at the legislation. And it doesn’t do what we told the voters we were going to do, and the American people understand that. That’s why only 17 percent of the population supports this legislation.”

The public infighting is unlikely to help Republicans get back on track with their agenda.

While Ryan said at a news conference that he understood why the president was frustrated, in a separate interview he broke with Trump by stating that he did not want to work with Democrats on healthcare.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally and member of the centrist Tuesday Group, affirmed at a meeting Wednesday that it will not meet with the Freedom Caucus to negotiate changes to an ObamaCare replacement bill.

“It was just reiterated that next time one of those calls comes in [from the Freedom Caucus], just hang up,” Collins said.

After the healthcare bill was pulled from consideration on Friday, Ryan and Trump both signaled they were ready to move on to other issues — specifically tax reform.

This week there have been suggestions, particularly from conservative rank-and-file Republicans, that the party should return to healthcare. But there has been no signs of progress in bridging differences between the center and right of the GOP, and Ryan on Thursday said a pause was likely necessary.

Trump’s public slamming of the Freedom Caucus is unlikely to help rally Republicans around a new healthcare push, and the caustic public comments from conservatives will have much of the country waiting for Trump to fire back.

Some conservative media outlets have blamed Ryan and GOP leaders for mishandling the ObamaCare fight.

Several Freedom Caucus members echoed arguments that they were protecting Trump from an unpopular bill.

“The bill's polling at 17 percent," Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said. “The American people are not in support of this bill. And we represent them, so we can do better.”

Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.), another Freedom Caucus member, said he’d rather face a primary challenger than sacrifice his principles.

“If a primary challenger would serve this country better than me I’m certainly willing to entertain that,” he said. “I think we can get along with the president. I think we’re the best friends the president has in this situation.”

Franks refused to criticize Trump for whipping support for the bill or attacking conservatives for its failure.

“I think Congress failed the president rather than the other way around, and I can understand his frustration,” he said.

One conservative interviewed by The Hill, who requested anonymity, said he viewed Trump’s tweet as a negotiating tactic.

“They’re just trying to add a little public pressure,” the source said. “We see that as purely a negotiating tactic. Trump wants a win more than anything else and he saw the healthcare bill as a political and publicity failure, so there’s a double-incentive for him to pin the blame on the Freedom Caucus folks for having obstructed it. I think he’s seeing who will bend.”

In another sign of possible fallout from last week, Ryan on Thursday morning hosted more than a dozen conservative free-market and pro-life leaders in his office, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Doug Holtz-Eakin of American Action Forum.

Noticeably absent from the meeting were any representatives from four outside conservative groups that opposed the healthcare bill: FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity.
 
The Freedom Caucus has frequently irritated its colleagues in the GOP, and Rep. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSenate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 Cook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column MORE (R-Texas) quit the group over the healthcare fight. Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) has said publicly he’s considering doing the same.

Democrats, for their part, welcomed the GOP infighting.

“It's just a tweet,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), one of the group’s newest members, told The Hill in an interview outside the Capitol.

At that moment, fellow Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat, pulled up in a Subaru, rolled down her window and shouted at her colleague tongue-in-cheek: “Hey Andy, did you see the president's tweet this morning? He's coming after both of us!”

“You know what," Biggs replied with a smile. "You guys want to impeach him, and we don't.”