President Donald Trump is in a “vengeful mood” over dissent in his Republican ranks, according to officials who spoke to The Daily Beast just hours after Trump threatened the House Freedom Caucus on Twitter on Thursday.
On Thursday morning, Trump once again hate-tweeted the hardline-conservative caucus, calling for an intra-party “fight” against it.
Shortly after the tweet was sent, the White House press office quickly informed curious reporters that Trump’s tweet “speaks for itself.” According to two Trump administration officials speaking to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity to talk freely, the president is "in a vengeful mood, again," as one described it.
Another official confirmed an earlier report from The Washington Post’s Robert Costa that Trump plans on “keeping a close eye on who from [the] Freedom Caucus” appears on television this week. The official said Trump has told “[senior] staff to gauge who will be the biggest pain in his ass, and the biggest roadblocks” as his administration moves forward on the legislative agenda.
On Thursday morning, when asked about Trump’s latest fit of hate-tweeting, a senior aide working for the Freedom Caucus simply messaged The Daily Beast, “Meh meh meh.”
Members of the House Freedom Caucus have already signaled that they will take a similar posturing on the issue of tax reform that they did on the Trump-heralded American Health Care Act. Additional early-morning hate-tweeting from the president is unlikely to change that.
"Anonymous threats from the White House, and ones from the president, won't keep conservatives from doing [our] jobs," one House Republican aide said. "If last week should have taught [the White House and leadership] anything it's that we don't scare easy.”
It has been almost a full week since Freedom Caucus members, along with other more moderate GOP members of Congress, effectively pulled the plug on Trumpcare, in a humiliating defeat for House Republican leadership and the allegedly master “dealmaker” of a president.
Over the weekend, Trump accused the conservative caucus of helping the Democrats “save” Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. The continuing Twitter salvos against the Freedom Caucus come from a president who had vowed to move on strategically—to tax reform and infrastructure, for instance—but who cannot seem to do so emotionally.
“It’s constructive in 5th grade—it may allow a child to get his way, but that’s not how our government works,” congressman Justin Amash, a Freedom Caucus stalwart, said on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, responding to Trump’s tweet.
"The idea of threatening your way to legislative success may not be the wisest of strategies," Amash’s colleague Rep. Mark Sanford frankly told The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel.
The Freedom Caucus is no stranger to direct threats, or suggestions of possible support for primary challengers, from the president or top White House staff. Last week, Trump summoned Rep. Mark Meadows, Freedom Caucus chairman, to stand up before a meeting of Republicans, and specifically singled him out for his dissent on the Obamacare-repeal effort.
"Mark, I'm coming after you," Trump reportedly said in the meeting.
On Friday, The Daily Beast reported that White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon was advising Trump to compile a “shit list” of those who opposed the bill, and that Bannon wanted the running tally displayed in his West Wing “war room.” Trump, for his part, was more than receptive to this enemies-list-type idea.
When asked by The Daily Beast last Friday afternoon if he was at all concerned about potentially making the White House “shit list” for his staunch opposition from the beginning to the AHCA, Amash just smiled, laughed, and asked, “What do you think?”
Members of the House Freedom Caucus are in a unique position to resist pressure from Republican leadership or the White House. Aside from the widespread unpopularity of the American Health Care Act, congressmen in the caucus sit almost uniformly in super-safe districts. Many of them, when they head home, are set to be greeted as liberators, not traitors. Rep. Meadows, for instance, was hailed as a hero in his western North Carolina district for his high-profile anti-TrumpCare efforts.