Conservatives target Congress, not Trump, after healthcare collapse
By Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley
Conservatives are lashing out at the Republican-controlled Congress over the lack of progress on President Trump’s agenda.
One by one, conservative groups lined up to blame Congress — not the president — for the collapse of Senate Republicans’ effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
“It’s shocking the amount of pushback he’s getting from his own party,” said Carl Higbie, a former spokesman for the pro-Trump Great America PAC. “It’s time to primary some of these longstanding congressional leaders that can’t get the job done.”
Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt trained his ire on Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), arguably the most endangered GOP Senate incumbent in 2018, for opposing the repeal and replace bill.
Hewitt questioned Heller’s intelligence, saying on his Tuesday show that he’s not “sharpest knife in the drawer” and accusing him of not grasping the damage he was doing to the Republican Party.
Hewitt even compared the list of Republican defectors from the bill to a fictional list kept by Arya Stark, a character on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” of people who have been marked for revenge after wronging her family.
“We know the list to blame. It’s like #AryaStark list. And it just keeps getting longer,” Hewitt tweeted.
Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler fumed, ticking through the names of senators who he said abandoned conservative voters by opposing a subsequent measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act and put off replacement.
“[Alaska Sen. Lisa] Murkowski, [West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore] Capito and Collins. People are furious. And not one ounce of it is directed at Trump,” Meckler said.
The Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), which funded ads in the past against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans, vowed to back primary challenges against Republicans who did not back the repeal and replace efforts.
“Republicans have promised to repeal ObamaCare for years, and now with President Trump in the White House there is no excuse for them to break their promise,” said SCF chairman Ken Cuccinelli.
The outrage illustrated the intraparty divisions that have opened up in the Republican Party over healthcare and could imperil other parts of Trump’s agenda.
The defeat on healthcare marks a significant loss for the White House.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised voters he would secure the repeal of ObamaCare on “day one” of his presidency.
The House passed legislation to repeal and replace former President Obama’s healthcare law in May, with Trump staging a raucous celebration in the Rose Garden with House Republican lawmakers later that day.
But the effort has ground to a halt in the Senate, where GOP leaders do not even have the votes to bring legislation repealing ObamaCare to the floor.
The healthcare measure ate up precious days on the congressional calendar, while its collapse raises doubts about lawmakers’ ability to tackle tax reform. The prospects for action this year on an infrastructure package appear increasingly dim.
The legislative logjam has left Trump without a signature legislative achievement six months into his first year in office, setting off a circular firing squad on the right over who is to blame.
But some conservatives say that backing primary challenges to GOP lawmakers is a dangerous game to play.
Great America PAC Chairman Ed Rollins told The Hill he wouldn’t target specific Republicans at this point.
“It doesn’t work to threaten members of Congress,” Rollins said. “When you threaten vulnerable members, it just causes the troops to rally around them. You don’t line up candidates to run against them either. You reach out and ask how you can work together and what you can do to help them get reelected.”
The political action committee is seeking to exert more subtle pressure on members of Congress. It sent a mailer out Tuesday demanding Republicans get behind full repeal, and it plans to release digital ads pushing full repeal later this week.
Rollins said the events should be a learning experience for the president. He said the White House shouldn’t spend any more political capital on the issue until House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and McConnell can get their conferences in order and deliver a bill that is sure to pass.
“I wouldn’t get behind anything until they show me they have 218 signatures in the House and 51 in the Senate,” Rollins said.
The Drudge Report placed the blame right on Ryan and McConnell, with the heavily trafficked site’s banner all day Tuesday showing a photo of Ryan and McConnell over the headline “MOST UNPRODUCTIVE CONGRESS IN 164 YEARS.”
The White House sought to deflect blame away from Republican lawmakers.
Asked during an off-camera briefing who she believes is responsible for the healthcare bill’s collapse, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed Democrats.
“They’re responsible for passing ObamaCare,” she said. “They’re responsible for creating the mess that we’re in. They’re responsible for being unwilling to work with Republicans in any capacity to help fix a system that they know is completely flawed and have publicly said so.”
Trump said Tuesday that he would have to “get more Republicans elected in ’18″ in order to advance his agenda and that “I’ll be working very hard for that to happen.”
Sanders, citing a law that bars some federal employees from engaging in political activity, refused to say whether Trump would campaign for Heller and Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), two Republican senators who opposed the healthcare bill.
Trump couldn’t help but vent some frustration at Congress, telling reporters how he heard Republican lawmakers talk for seven years about the need to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Given the chance to do so, “they don’t take advantage of it,” he said.
“I’m sitting in the Oval Office right next door, pen in hand, waiting to sign something,” Trump said.
Some Republicans believe the president is responsible for the repeal and replace effort’s collapse. They say he failed to learn the details of his biggest legislative initiative, did little to sell it and sent mixed messages about what he wanted.
For example, Trump on Monday night called on the Senate to first repeal ObamaCare and then pass a replacement later.
“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” he tweeted.
But on Tuesday morning, he floated a completely different proposal — letting the healthcare law fail on its own.
“As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!” he tweeted.