Guest Opinion: Trump should see Freedom Caucus as ally
The House Freedom Caucus’ swing votes proved enough to kill the American Health Care Act — and President Donald Trump did not respond well.
Setting off a Twitter war, the president tweeted: “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!”
Some Freedom Caucus members responded with dismay and disappointment.
“Freedom Caucus stood with u when others ran. Remember who your friends are. We’re trying to help u succeed,” Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, who in 2015 was one of nine founders of the group, which now numbers about three dozen Republicans, tweeted in reply. Added fellow co-founder Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, “It didn’t take long for the swamp to drain @realDonaldTrump. No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. Establishment.”
Others have questioned the president’s strong-arm tactics to gain support and suppress dissent. In a meeting with Freedom Caucus members in the week before the vote, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon reportedly scolded the legislators: “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” And Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., told the Charleston Post and Courier that White House budget director Mick Mulvaney reluctantly delivered the following message to him: “The president asked me to look you square in the eyes and to say that he hoped you voted ‘no’ on this bill so he could run (a primary challenger) against you in 2018.”
Political posturing aside, the Freedom Caucus members who voted against the health care bill did so for a simple reason: They felt that Obamacare’s mandates, taxes and subsidies constituted an unwarranted intrusion on the free market and on Americans’ health care decisions, but that the new bill did not meet the promises that they, like Trump, had made to repeal it and replace it with something better. Besides, passing an “Obamacare-lite” bill would only saddle Republicans with the blame when it ultimately failed.
Moreover, the legislation had some uncomfortable parallels with Obamacare’s genesis, including trying to rush through a large and complicated bill that members of Congress did not have time to thoroughly read, much less digest and analyze, harkening back to the now infamous words of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in 2010 that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
Trump’s threat is confusing since, though there may be some strong disagreements with the Freedom Caucus on certain issues, he has no more ardent supporters for major proposals like eliminating regulations and generally reducing the size and scope of government. In addition, both he and the Freedom Caucus owe their political success to bucking the establishment, so it makes little sense for him to try to replace the Freedom Caucus with more establishment Republicans.
In any case, attempting to humiliate and bully those who share at least some of your goals is no way to get things done. Trump should allow cooler heads to prevail and heed the words of Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump It’s a swamp not a hot tub. We both came here to drain it.”