Washington — President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened the conservative House Republicans who opposed the recent GOP health care bill, suggesting the party “must fight them” in the next election cycle.
Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, who represents the Grand Rapids area, was among the most pointed among the House GOP hardliners pushing back Thursday against Trump, suggesting he has been subsumed by the insider “swamp” of the Washington political establishment.
“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!,” Trump said on Twitter.
With this tweet, the president waded further into the civil war in his party between hard-line conservatives and the rest of the GOP conference. His remark came less than a week after the conflicting factions in the GOP led to the collapse of the Republican health care bill, with leaders pulling the legislation from the House floor last Friday because they didn’t have the votes to pass it.
Amash, who is Michigan’s only member of the Freedom Caucus, outpaced Trump in his district by nearly 8 percentage points in November’s election and answered the president’s attack as he left the U.S. Capitol.
“Most people don’t take well to being bullied,” Amash said in response to reporters’ questions, as captured by television cameras.
Trump's approach is "constructive in fifth grade. It may allow a child to get his way, but that’s not how our government works.”
The libertarian-minded lawmaker initially struck back at the president on Twitter.
“It didn't take long for the swamp to drain @realDonaldTrump. No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. Establishment,” tweeted Amash, who opposed the health care bill since its introduction earlier this month.
Asked to respond, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he would let the president’s tweet speak for itself.
“This is consistent with everything he has said since Friday of last week, and I think that he is looking for members on both sides of the aisle who want to be constructive to achieve the goal of a patient-centered healthcare system,” Spicer told reporters. “That’s it, plain and simple.”
Spicer rejected the notion that Trump was attempting to “divide and conquer” Republicans. “This is a math strategy to get to 216 (votes) and continue to move the agenda forward,” he said.
Ryan issues own warning
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on Thursday warned fellow Republicans that if they cannot come together, Trump may look to make deals with the Democrats.
“I understand the president's frustration. I share his frustration,” Ryan said at a press briefing. “Ninety percent of our conference is for repeal and replace, and 10 percent is not. That is not enough. Members need to keep talking with each other until we get the consensus, but the president is frustrated that we haven’t gotten to where we need to go.”
Amash says the health care bill – crafted largely by Ryan – wouldn’t have lowered costs and didn’t go far enough to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act, retaining the basic “framework” of the 7-year-old law.
Amash wants his party to start over on a new bill that fully repeals Obamacare, saying it would “make the system worse” to only repeal portions of the law because of how they interact.
For instance, repealing the requirement that insurers cover 10 categories of “essential” benefits, without making other substantial changes, would hurt the sickest consumers on the health care exchanges, he said.
But GOP critics have noted that the Freedom Caucus arguments would not get the support of enough Republicans in the U.S. Senate, where the party holds a thin majority with 52 votes and has a larger number of moderate conservatives.
The Freedom Caucus wasn’t the only group of GOP lawmakers unhappy with the health care legislation. Several members of the moderate Tuesday Group, including Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pennsylvania, and House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey, opposed the bill. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is a member of the Tuesday Group who decided to support the legislation.
The White House has suggested the Freedom Caucus kept changing the terms of what they wanted out of a deal on the health care bill. Trump also took aim at the Freedom Caucus last weekend.
“Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
Freedom Caucus defense
Amash has defended the Freedom Caucus, saying members negotiated in good faith with House leadership, GOP moderates and the White House, and that the caucus wanted to bring Republicans together.
“From the beginning of the process, the way it was set up did not bring the disparate groups of the conference together,” Amash said last week. “We need to start from the beginning, making sure all of the concerns are addressed. There is definitely room for compromise among the various sides.”
He later wrote that the House is a deliberative body where “outcomes are discovered, not dictated. Compromise & consensus cannot be centrally planned.”
Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, said Thursday the bill has not only split Republicans but the American public.
“We appreciate the president. We’re trying to help the president, but the fact is you’ve got to look at the legislation,” Jordan told Fox News. “And it doesn’t do what we told the voters we were gonna do and the American people understand that, that’s why only 17 percent of the population supports this legislation.”