TRUMP DECLARES WAR ON OWN PARTY
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.
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.