White House officials insisted Sunday that the relationship between President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan is strong, even as Republican infighting over the failure to repeal Obamacare exploded into the open over the weekend.
After Trump urged his Twitter followers Saturday to watch Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro — who opened her show last night with six-minute plea for Speaker Paul Ryan to step down — Washington was abuzz with speculation about a Trump-Ryan rift. Trump-boosting Breitbart News, the former publication of the president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, used the sequence of events to highlight the apparent discord.
But White House officials later emphasized that Trump was not endorsing Ryan’s ouster.
“He is a fan of her show plain and simple,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in an email, explaining Trump’s tweet.
White House officials say Trump does not support Pirro’s comments on Ryan, but was merely trying to show support for the Fox host, who has long backed Trump.
“Nothing was meant by it,” said a White House aide.
Trump and Ryan spoke for an hour Saturday, and other GOP insiders said Trump has praised Ryan in private conversations since the speaker was forced to pull the American Health Care Act on Friday amid eroding support from hardline conservatives and House moderates. Trump’s top aides also took to the Sunday shows to underscore the strong relationship between the president and Ryan.
“He doesn’t blame Paul Ryan,” chief of staff Reince Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He thought Paul Ryan worked really hard, enjoys his relationship with Paul Ryan, thinks that Paul Ryan is a great speaker of the House. None of that has changed.”
Asked about Trump’s call to watch Pirro’s show on Saturday, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “I have spent more time within the last week with the president of the United States than I ever thought I would. … Never once have I seen him blame Paul Ryan. So I’m not sure what that was about last night.”
The uneasy alliance between Trump and Ryan did little to hide the increasingly acrimonious recriminations among Republicans. It’s a preview of the challenge Trump and Ryan will face as they nurse their wounds and attempt to regroup for what could be an even more divisive fight over tax reform,
Trump began Sunday with a tweet ripping the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus and their outside backers, the group of three-dozen Republicans and like-minded groups that banded together to help block the health care bill.
“Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” he tweeted.
But Trump’s ire, apparently, wasn’t limited to the conservative rebels. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) — leader of the moderate Tuesday Group — confirmed that Trump upbraided him during a recent meeting at the White House and accused him of “destroying” the Republican Party. Dent was referring to an anecdote published Sunday in the New York Times Magazine describing the tense confrontation.
“According to an attendee, Trump angrily informed Dent that he was ‘destroying the Republican Party’ and ‘was going to take down tax reform — and I’m going to blame you,” the magazine’s Robert Draper reported.
Dent told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd that the exchange did take place and said he listened to the president “very respectfully.” He also said he had no plans to back down in the face of Trump’s anger.
In his own Sunday show appearance, Priebus emphasized that Trump’s frustration at the health care failure is aimed in multiple directions.
“I think the president’s disappointed in a number of people that he thought were loyal to him that weren’t,” Priebus said.
The Freedom Caucus and outside groups panned the AHCA as a watered-down version of Obamacare that retained many of its core elements and failed to lower premiums. Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham fired back at critics in Congress as well.
“Let’s be clear about the situation: House leadership drafted an awful bill and is now lying to itself that a deal wasn’t possible,” he tweeted Sunday.
Infighting even erupted among Republican lawmakers.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) resigned from the House Freedom Caucus Sunday over the group’s opposition to the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“I have resigned from the House Freedom Caucus. In order to deliver on the conservative agenda we have promised the American people for eight years, we must come together to find solutions to move this country forward,” the seven-term lawmaker wrote in a statement. “Saying no is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do. Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective Member of Congress and advocate for the people of Texas. It is time to lead.”
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) said Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) “betrayed Trump and America and supported [House Democratic leader Nancy] Pelosi and Dems to protect Obamacare.”
His unusual attack drew a personal rebuke from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a Freedom Caucus member and opponent of the AHCA.
“Austin, thank God there are honorable congressmen like @RepMarkMeadows who aren’t seduced by logical fallacies,” he replied.
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