Trump de­clares war on Free­dom Caucus mem­bers,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Rucker, John Wag­ner and Mike Debo­nis

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ef­fec­tively de­clared war Thurs d ay on the House Free­dom Caucus, the pow­er­ful group of con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans who helped block 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 in­tra- party com­bat from a sit­ting pres­i­dent.

There are about three dozen mem­bers of t he Free­dom Caucus, and most of them were elected or re-elected com­fort­ably in sol- idly 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 told re­porters later Thurs­day that he sym­pa­thized with Trump.

“I un­der­stand the pres­i­dent’s frus­tra­tion,” said Ryan, who was un­able to push the health-care bill through his own cham­ber. “I share frus- tra­tion. 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 ini- tially 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 in­transi- gence 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 March 24 af­ter Mead­ows and some of his al­lies said they would not vote for it.

“This has been brewing for a while,” a White House offi- cial said of Trump’s de­ci­sion.

Trump has been “pay­ing close at­ten­tion and keep­ing his op­tions open,” said the of­fi­cial. “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.

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, R-S.C., a for­mer gover­nor who has called for the health re­form to work its way through Con­gress more slowly, said the pres­i­dent was tak­ing ex­actly the wrong ap­proach to his fel­low Free­dom Caucus mem­bers.

“The idea of threat­en­ing your way to leg­isla­tive suc­cess may not be the wis­est of strate­gies,” San­ford said. “It’s a case of shoot­ing mes­sen­gers who were, right­fully, point­ing out prob­lems in a bill that the Amer­i­can pub- lic has not shown a pro­cliv­ity to­ward.”

Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ohio, a Free­dom Caucus mem­ber, said the break with Trump on the health-care leg­is­la­tion was based on real pol­icy dif­fer­ences

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

STEPHEN CROW­LEY / NEW YORK TIMES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has called for the de­feat of GOP House mem­bers who re­fused to vote for his health­care bill over­haul, tweet­ing Thurs­day that they needed to “get on the team.”

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