The Trump team failed to win over the House Freedom Caucus, whose strident opposition to the American Health Care Act was fueled in part by influential conservative groups’ disdain for the plan they dubbed “Obamacare 2.0.” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that the president wants to move on to other agenda items, which according to House Speaker Paul Ryan includes tax reform and border security.
Trump wasn’t sanguine about the loss. He was red hot. Trump reportedly pushed for the vote to happen on Friday afternoon to publicly humiliate disloyal Republicans on live television. (Trump backed down and the bill was pulled instead.) Nevertheless, Trump’s chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon told the president to “keep a shit list” of Republicans who fought him.
On Saturday morning, Trump started checking off that list.
First, he fired off a tweet promoting Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s show, which opened with this sentence:
“Paul Ryan needs to step down as Speaker of the House,” she said. “The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill.”
When asked about the speculation that Trump knew Pirro would blast Ryan—or told her to do it—Priebus said the tweet was “coincidental” and that Trump was simply “helping out a friend.” Priebus insisted that Trump does not want Ryan to step down.
Maybe so, but Bannon, the man with Trump’s ear, probably does. When he led Breitbart, Bannon would reportedly refer to Ryan as “the enemy,” and the site often ran hit-pieces questioning Ryan’s loyalty to Trump during the 2016 election.
Trump took it up a notch on Sunday morning, accusing the right-wing Freedom Caucus of carrying water for the Democrats.
“Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & [Obamacare]!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, did not return fire. He predicted that the president will “deliver” on his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“He’s done more in 65 days than any president in modern history, and so let’s put it in real perspective where we are,” Meadows said on ABC’s This Week.
Hours after his boss tweeted, the administration’s budget chief piled on.
“This place [Washington, D.C.] was a lot more rotten than we thought that it was—and than I thought it was because I’ve been here for six years. I know the Freedom Caucus. I helped found it. I never thought it would come to this,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Trump’s message appears to have fueled antagonism within the House GOP.
Rep. Austin Scott tweeted that Freedom Caucus leader Meadows “betrayed Trump and America and supported Pelosi and Dems to protect Obamacare.” Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian member of the Freedom Caucus, responded: “Austin, thank God there are honorable congressmen like Rep. Mark Meadows who aren’t seduced by logical fallacies.”
Immediately after the bill was pulled from the House floor, Trump cast the blame squarely on the Democrats, and suggested they’ll be coming to him once Obamacare “explodes.” But Trump and House GOP leadership never reached out to Democrats in the first place on the AHCA, a fact that Priebus did not dispute on Sunday.
“I think it’s time for our folks to come together and I also think it’s time to potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board as well,” Priebus said on Fox News Sunday, adding later: “I think the president’s disappointed in the number of people that he thought were loyal to him that weren’t.”
With a government shutdown looming next month and GOP agenda items including tax reform and immigration reform up next, it’s difficult to imagine that the road ahead will get easier for the GOP unless Trump does what he is rarely capable of doing: make amends with his party.