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Freedom Caucus Vows Not to Blink on ‘Taking Down’ Trumpcare

Members of the House Freedom Caucus said Tuesday they appreciated Trump’s pitch, but not enough to change their mind on the House Republican health plan.

Reuters

As House Republican leadership prays for a narrow victory for their Obamacare repeal, some of the House’s most staunchly and severely conservative members keep insisting that they’re digging in to kill Trumpcare.

“Their whip count is wrong,” a House Freedom Caucus aide told The Daily Beast on Tuesday morning. “We’re taking [Trumpcare] down.”

This week, the Trump White House and GOP leadership on Capitol Hill are scrambling to secure the votes needed in the House to pass the American Health Care Act, with aspiration to hold a vote as soon as Thursday. President Donald Trump made a high-profile visit to speak to the House Republican Conference on Tuesday in a last-minute ditch to woo—or intimidate—conservative holdouts on his and Paul Ryan’s bill.

“Many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don’t get this done,” Trump reportedly told the conference. The president also invoked his rally crowd sizes, saying “we won’t have these crowds if we don’t get this done.”

The trickiest obstacle for passage remains the House Freedom Caucus, a congressional faction of hard-right conservatives who keep publicly and privately insisting that, as of Tuesday afternoon, they still have the votes to sink the deeply unpopular and divisive AHCA. The caucus generally maintains that Trumpcare is another outgrowth of big-government giveaways, and that it betrays the Republican Party’s years-long crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Changes to the bill that were unveiled this week do not appear to have pacified members.

“Reports the Freedom Caucus won't oppose AHCA are incorrect. No position was announced last night -- doesn't mean they won't vote as bloc,” Alyssa Farah, spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus, tweeted Tuesday morning.

During the meeting on Tuesday, Trump specifically called out Rep. Mark Meadows, who chairs the Freedom Caucus, several times, in a joking but simultaneously foreboding manner, members said as they left the the meeting. According to those in the room, the president made it clear that he expects Meadows’s vote and support when push comes to shove.

"I think Mark Meadows will get there, too. Mark, I'm coming after you," Trump said, according to The Hill.

Following the meeting, Meadows confirmed Trump’s acknowledgement, but said that his mind wasn’t changed. He also told press that he also wasn’t moved by the president’s alleged charm offensive on Monday, and that there is still “more than enough” opposition to block passage. Meadows declined to provide further details.

"I serve at the pleasure of the people of western North Carolina, and when you serve at their pleasure, it's only those 750,000 people that can send you home," Meadows told reporters on Tuesday after Trump finished speaking, pushing back on the president’s warning. “It's a temporary job, and I've known that from day one.”

Whatever conference loyalty was gained in the morning appeared to evaporate by afternoon among the hardliners. At a meeting hours after Trump’s big visit, the Freedom Caucus held a closed-door meeting to discuss members’ positions. Meadows emerged from that meeting telling huddled reporters that there are still more than 21 stated “no” votes, and that the united front of opposition within his group is as it was 24 hours ago.

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“The people that I know, they weren’t swayed [by President Trump],” Congressman Rod Blum, a member of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “I will vote against the current bill.”

Blum told The Daily Beast that “if I had to bet on this, I would say there won’t be a vote on Thursday,” putting the odds at “30 percent [or] 33 percent that we’ll have” the floor vote on Trumpcare this week.

“Well, I personally know more than 21 people who are no votes against this, so I know [that] for a fact,” he said. “I think this is the old ‘Let’s see who blinks first.’ It’s kind of interesting in a way…[So] let’s make the bill better…They don’t have the votes.”

“Nothing new has been communicated [this afternoon],” Blum continued. “I just asked Mark Meadows in there, ‘Have they been negotiating with you?’ He said, ‘no.’”

Though Blum described the president’s performance and pitch on Tuesday as “marvelous,” if ultimately unconvincing, he like fellow caucus members are advocating “going back to the drawing board” on the House Republican repeal-and-replace efforts.

For its part, leadership isn’t breaking a sweat—at least not in front of cameras or reporters.

“We have a lot of Freedom Caucus members who are supporting the bill,” House Speaker Ryan said on Tuesday, while also claiming that Trump had “knocked the ball out of the park.”

“A lot of the members’ concerns have been incorporated in this process,” Ryan claimed.

If a floor vote is in fact held on Thursday, it will then be clear which side is bluffing and spinning and which side isn’t. However, what is clear is that the House Freedom Caucus is going out of its way to publicly and on-the-record state that they have every intention of killing Trump and Ryan’s hopes and dreams this week. It is also equally clear that President Trump isn’t planning on forgetting who stood in the way, and will be looking for people to blame if it all comes apart.

Jackie Kucinich contributed reporting.