Frustrated Trump Threatens War on Freedom Caucus
President hints at primaries against House conservatives in wake of health care breakdown
President Donald Trump has settled on one culprit for the collapse of a GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare: the House Freedom Caucus.
On Thursday morning, still sore from the defeat of the American Health Care Act, Trump targeted 35 rebellious conservatives in the House of Representatives with a series of tweets.
“No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. Establishment.”
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump tweeted “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
It was a remarkable statement from a new president — a Republican president — who has appointed some of the most conservative Cabinet members since the Reagan era.
Trump has also nominated perhaps the most conservative Supreme Court justice — Judge Neil Gorsuch — since the late Antonin Scalia, also from the Reagan era.
But tensions between the White House and the Freedom Caucus, a subgroup of conservative and libertarian Republicans who formed in 2014, have bordered on hostility since the group played a role in torpedoing the GOP's first pass at Obamacare repeal.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pulled the Obamacare repeal bill from the House floor on Friday before an official vote.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence advised Ryan to pull the bill after Ryan after learning there weren't enough votes within the 237-member GOP caucus. Because of vacancies, Ryan needed about 215 votes to pass the bill in the 435-member House.
The largest share of naysayers didn't come from the Tuesday Group, a moderate coalition within the GOP caucus. It came from the Freedom Caucus, whose 35 or so members rejected the repeal bill.
It wasn't the first time the Freedom Caucus caused instability within the GOP. The group helped drive former House Speaker John Boehner from office in late 2015.
Things were supposed to be different with Trump and Ryan.
Ryan kicked off his national career as the House Budget Committee chairman who wanted to finally address the national debt and entitlement reform — which was music to the ears of the Freedom Caucus.
And Trump was the disruptor of the status quo that conservatives had long sought. While not every Republican agreed with Trump on all issues, the new president had promised to repeal Obamacare and to reform taxes.
Trump was supported early in the 2016 Republican primaries by the caucus chairman, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). Meadows' office did not return a message seeking comment.
Trump is doing what few other Republicans have done to the Freedom Caucus — fighting back, and with energy. Journalists immediately jumped into action, asking the White House if Trump truly meant what he tweeted.
"The President’s tweet speaks for itself," said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump's deputy press secretary.
A spokeswoman for the Freedom Caucus itself did not return a message from LifeZette.
But Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a libertarian-minded member of the caucus, criticized Trump for the tweet.
"It didn't take long for the swamp to drain @realDonaldTrump," Amash tweeted. "No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. Establishment."
One top GOP adviser, who is a sharp critic of the Freedom Caucus, agreed that Trump should hold his fire.
"It's punching down,"said Karl Rove, speaking on Fox News on Thursday morning."Let others punch down for him."
Still, the tweet sent the intended message. Fox News host Shannon Bream asked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the former chairman of the caucus, about the turmoil that the group caused by forcing the bill to be pulled.
"I'm not here to assign blame or point to the future," Jordan told Fox News.
Jordan indicated that behind the scenes, Trump continues to push hard.
"I've had more conversations with the White House in the last several weeks than I can count," said Jordan. "We better get this right because there's other big issues coming. Let's get the process right."
Trump does not consider the issue dead. LifeZette reported Tuesday night that Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has been working with Freedom Caucus allies in the Senate — Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) — to satisfy some concerns before a new bill is introduced.