Originally Published: March 26, 2017 7:11 p.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Sunday attacked conservative lawmakers for the failure of the Republican bill to replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law, as aides signaled a greater willingness to work with moderate Democrats on upcoming legislative battles from the budget and tax cuts to health care.
On Twitter, Trump complained: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!”
The Freedom Caucus is a hard-right group of more than 30 GOP House members who were largely responsible for blocking the bill to undo the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” The bill was pulled from the House floor Friday in a humiliating political defeat for the president, having lacked support from either the conservative Republicans or Democrats.
Trump initially focused his blame on Democrats for the failure and predicted a dire future for the current law.
But on Sunday, his aides made clear that Trump would be seeking support from moderate Democrats, leaving open the possibility he could still revisit health care legislation. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus scolded conservative Republicans, explaining that Trump had felt “disappointed” that a “number of people he thought were loyal to him that weren’t.”
“It’s time for the party to start governing,” Priebus said. “I think it’s time for our folks to come together, and I also think it’s time to potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board as well.”
As he ponders his next steps, Trump faces decisions on whether to back administrative changes to fix Obamacare or undermine it as prices for insurance plans rise in many markets. Over the weekend, the president tweeted a promise of achieving a “great healthcare plan” because Obamacare will “explode.”
On Sunday, Priebus did not answer directly regarding Trump’s choice, saying that fixes to the health law will have to come legislatively and he wants to ensure “people don’t get left behind.”
“I don’t think the president is closing the door on anything,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats stood ready to work with Trump to fix Obamacare if he is willing to drop attempts to repeal the law and not undermine it. He warned that Trump is destined to “lose again” on other parts of his agenda if he remains beholden to conservative Republicans.
“If he changes, he could have a different presidency,” Schumer said. “But he’s going to have to tell the Freedom Caucus and the hard-right special wealthy interests who are dominating his presidency ... he can’t work with them, and we’ll certainly look at his proposals.”
Their comments came after another day of finger-pointing among Republicans, both subtle and not-so subtle. On Saturday, Trump urged Americans in a tweet to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro’s program on Fox that night. She led her show by calling for House Speaker Paul Ryan to resign, blaming him for defeat of the bill in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Priebus described the two events as “coincidental,” insisting that Trump was helping out a friend by plugging her show and no “preplanning” occurred. “He doesn’t blame Paul Ryan,” Priebus said. “In fact, he thought Paul Ryan worked really hard. He enjoys his relationship with Paul Ryan, thinks that Paul Ryan is a great speaker of the House.”
A spokeswoman for Ryan, AshLee Strong, said Ryan and Trump spoke for nearly an hour Saturday and again on Sunday about moving forward on the agenda, saying “their relationship is stronger than ever right now.” In their Sunday conversation, Trump “was clear his tweet had nothing to do with the speaker,” Strong said.
The White House faces a tall task in gaining support for its congressional agenda. Trump, for instance, now lacks the savings anticipated from the health care bill to help pay for tax cuts, while expected legislation to invest $1 trillion in roads and infrastructure and to cut down on illegal immigration will likely need support from Democrats.
Priebus said Trump was looking ahead for now at debate over the budget and a tax plan, which he said would include a border adjustment tax and middle-class tax cuts.
“It’s more or less a warning shot that we are willing to talk to anyone, we always have been,” he said. “I think more so now than ever, it’s time for both parties to come together and get to real reforms in this country.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus, acknowledged he was doing a lot of “self-critiquing” after the health care defeat. He insisted the GOP overhaul effort was not over and that he regretted not spending more time with moderate Republicans and Democrats “to find some consensus.”
“It’s incumbent upon those two groups, the conservatives and the moderates, to come together, hopefully in the coming days, to find consensus, to present something to the president that certainly not only gets him 216 votes, but hopefully 235 votes,” he said.
Meadows also said he was open to a tax plan that is not fully “offset” so it is revenue neutral. That’s a shift for a fiscal conservative concerned about deficits.
“Does it have to be what they would say revenue neutral, or do you have to have an offset like with the border adjustment tax? ... I think there has been a lot of flexibility in terms of some of my contacts and conservatives in terms of not making it totally offset,” he said.
Trump left the White House on Sunday morning for the Trump National Golf Course in Potomac Falls, Virginia, returning in early afternoon. Trump also spent Saturday at his Virginia club.
Priebus spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” and Schumer and Meadows appeared on ABC’s “This Week.”