Steve's Blog

Trump vs. The Freedom Caucus

Republicans are in perhaps the strongest position ever to deliver common sense conservative reforms to the American people. We have a Republican president, a Republican House, a Republican Senate, two-thirds of the governors, two-thirds of the state legislatures, and soon a more conservative Supreme Court.

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Yet in the first big lift of the Trump Administration, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, something we all promised to do, we look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Yes, there have been some accomplishments: the Keystone and Dakota pipelines have been approved after years of Obama delays; the Mexico City pro-life policy is once again the law, preventing U.S. tax dollars from funding abortions on the international scene; illegal immigration is down 40% (and that’s before the wall has even been built); federal hiring, outside the military, has been frozen; two regulations are being eliminated for every new one ; and Neil Gorsuch is on his way to the Supreme Court.

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But repealing Obamacare – that one ought to be a no-brainer. We passed a repeal of Obamacare dozens of times in the House in recent years. Unfortunately those repeals either got blocked in the Senate, or were vetoed by President Obama. This time we could actually repeal Obamacare, if Republicans can just get their act together.

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President Trump principally blames a relatively small group of Republicans in the House, known as the Freedom Caucus, for the failure of the repeal of Obamacare. I had quoted one of his anti-Freedom Caucus tweets last week – here’s another: “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, and fast. We must fight them, & DEMS, in 2018!”

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Here’s the way I see it. It’s quite possible, that if Donald Trump can’t get the votes he needs from a united Republican team in Congress, he’ll go to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to get the votes he needs. This pulls legislation in a less conservative, bigger-spending direction. Democrats may be less willing to cooperate with Trump on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, because that was arguably Barack Obama’s most significant accomplishment, and they don’t want to repeal it. But when it comes to things like infrastructure and tax reform and immigration, Democrats would love to pull legislation more to their way of thinking.

President Barack Obama, joined by, from second from left, Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, to meet with members of Congress to discuss his signature healthcare law. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It’s even a possible scenario, that the 50 or so moderate Republicans in the House, could team up with the Democrats, and constitute a center-left coalition on most, if not all, legislation. If President Trump worked with such a ruling majority, the mainstream press would love it, and Trump’s almost always hostile press coverage, would probably turn glowing in a heartbeat. Hopefully that won’t happen.

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Here’s what my friends in the Freedom Caucus need to realize. The American people have given us an opportunity which doesn’t come along very often. We can move this country along in a decidedly conservative direction. We can reduce the size and scope of the federal government. We can reduce taxes and simplify the tax code. We can strengthen our military and make sure that America is once again respected, and feared by bad actors, across the globe. We can make great strides in making America a more pro-life nation. And yes, we can repeal and replace Obamacare with something that gives Americans better healthcare at a more affordable price. But only if we work together.

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I would encourage the Freedom Caucus to negotiate with other Republicans in the House, including the leadership (like Speaker Paul Ryan), and with President Trump and his negotiators, to get the most conservative legislation possible. But at the end of this process, they need to vote “yes.” Because for every Republican vote we lose, leadership will need to replace it with a Democrat vote (if possible), and the legislation being considered gets less conservative, and inevitably spends more. So by being obstinate, and pure, they’re likely to push legislation to the left. Again, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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This is something Ronald Reagan knew instinctively. And ultimately why he was such a great, and successful, president. He knew he would never get the whole loaf, but he was quite happy getting 80% of it. And he could try to get the other 20% later – and usually did. I hope ALL my Republican colleagues in Congress realize this soon, or it’s going to be a very unproductive Congress – and a tremendous opportunity, will have been missed.

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Finally, as frustrated as President Trump clearly is with Congress dropping the ball on healthcare (at least thus far) I doubt whether negative tweets against the Freedom Caucus will have the intended results. There is a tendency for one’s base to rally in support when a politician is attacked. Maybe it will be different since it’s Trump doing the attacking, but I doubt it. And it might poison the well, making future cooperation all that much harder. And trust is essential if there’s to be any chance of renegotiating a deal, and finally passing an Obamacare repeal.

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Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

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