TRUMP DE­CLARES WAR ON OWN PARTY

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - PHILIP RUCKER, JOHN WAG­NER AND MIKE DEBO­NIS

WASH­ING­TON • Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 Ryan said 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 per cent of our con­fer­ence is for this bill to re­peal and re­place Oba­maCare and about 10 per cent are not. And that’s not enough to pass a bill.”

Trump and his White House ad­vis­ers have been frus­trated by the in­tran­si­gence of Free­dom Caucus mem­bers, led by Rep. Mark Mead­ows. 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.

“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,” said a White House of­fi­cial, who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

Trump’s threat comes as Re­pub­li­can lead­ers are brac­ing for a month of po­ten­tial GOP in­fight­ing over spend­ing pri­or­i­ties.

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.

“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, then they’d want an­other thing. If you’re Trump, you won­der, ‘Why are these peo­ple meet­ing with me if they’re al­ways go­ing to be a no vote?’ There was room for give and they wouldn’t give.”

If Trump gets in­volved in Re­pub­li­can pri­maries, Norquist said he thinks it’s pos­si­ble Trump could “get some scalps.”

On Capi­tol Hill, Trump’s tweet was met with a range of re­ac­tions — with some mem­bers say­ing it could prove coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and oth­ers prais­ing him for us­ing the power of his of­fice in a way he hasn’t to this point.

Rep. Mark San­ford, a for­mer gover­nor, said that the pres­i­dent was tak­ing ex­actly the wrong ap­proach.

“The idea of threat­en­ing your way to leg­isla­tive suc­cess may not be the wis­est of strate­gies,” San­ford said.

Rep. Jim Jor­dan, a Free­dom Caucus mem­ber, said the break with Trump on the health-care leg­is­la­tion was based on real pol­icy dif­fer­ences, not a lack of loy­alty.

“The pres­i­dent can say what he wants and that’s fine. But we’re fo­cused on the leg­is­la­tion,” Jor­dan told re­porters.

Rep. Justin Amash tweeted that Trump’s sup­port of the health-care bill sig­nalled he was now part of the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment that he had cam­paigned against.

“It didn’t take long for the swamp to drain @re­alDon­aldTrump,” tweeted Amash, a mem­ber of the Free­dom Caucus. “No shame, Mr. Pres­i­dent. Al­most ev­ery­one suc­cumbs to the D.C. Es­tab­lish­ment.”

THERE WAS ROOM FOR GIVE AND THEY WOULDN’T GIVE.

NI­CHOLAS KAMM / AFP / GETTY IM­AGES

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his White House ad­vis­ers have been frus­trated by the in­tran­si­gence of Free­dom Caucus mem­bers in the House, led by Rep. Mark Mead­ows, left, of North Carolina.

AN­DREW HARNIK / AP

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