President Donald Trump, still smarting from his first major legislative failure, threatened Thursday to help oust House Freedom Caucus members from office next year.
The president delivered the intraparty broadside after the conservative faction — and Republican moderates — refused to support a bill that would have repealed and replaced the Obama administration’s 2010 health care law. Trump and Speaker Paul D. Ryan pulled the bill Friday when they concluded they lacked the 216 GOP votes needed to pass it.
White House officials in recent days have reached out to Freedom Caucus members and other House Republicans about how the party might try again. But there is no consensus about what a new bill might look like — and Trump is openly courting House Democrats, eager for a win on an issue on which he campaigned intensely.
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump tweeted, before delivering a stunning attack: “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
Freedom Caucus member Trent Franks of Arizona seemed to welcome the fight.
“If a primary challenger would serve the country better than me, then I’m certainly willing to entertain that,” Franks said after learning of Trump’s tweet from a reporter.
“If somebody can get to the right of me in the primary, God bless him,” the eight-term Republican lawmaker added.
Still, Franks didn’t blame the president.
“I think Congress failed the president rather than the other way around, and I can understand his frustration,” he said.
But Franks defended the Freedom Caucus, saying members wanted just one thing — for Republicans to keep their promise to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.
After Health Care Bill Defeat, White House Signals Possible Second Try
As to Freedom Caucus members’ characters, Franks noted he could see many of them being pallbearers at his funeral.
Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, a caucus member, said the group’s message that it still wants to get to “yes” on health care doesn’t seem to be reaching the president.
“Something is blocking that valve,” he said.
When asked about Trump’s tweet, Ryan said he understood the president’s frustration,
“I share his frustration,” the speaker said, adding that it’s 10 percent of the conference that’s holding up the bill.
Trump met with Freedom Caucus members last Thursday at the White House, and was in regular talks with its chairman, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows. But the president was unable to garner the support of the often-stubborn group.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.