The House Freedom Caucus, which was a critical force behind the implosion of the Republican repeal and replacement bill last week, is now actively trying to resurrect a similar bill.
The group of more than 30 hardline conservatives defied Republican leadership and the White House when they said they’d vote no on the legislation without major changes. Their refusal to back the bill, coupled with a handful of moderate members, ultimately caused President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to cancel a vote on the legislation Friday.
After the failure of the bill and some weekend reflection, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and his caucus are trying to do things differently. The group is working with leadership and moderate Republicans to try to bring back the bill in a different form.
Meadows had a meeting with Ryan on Tuesday, which was unusual because the Freedom Caucus had largely gone around leadership during the negotiation process and dealt directly with the White House.
The Freedom Caucus, which in many ways aligns more closely with Trump than House leadership, visited the White House for meetings with the president, vice president and other administration officials. Meadows spoke almost daily with Trump or a member of his team in an effort to negotiate a new bill, but the group’s interaction with House leadership was minimal.
Midway through the process, Meadows told reporters he had spoken to the White House every day that week but hadn’t had a substantial meeting with a member of House leadership in two weeks. Conversations between the caucus and leadership did pick up pace as it became clear the bill was in trouble but by then it was too late.
Meadows also said Tuesday he was working with Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who is co-chairman of Tuesday Group — a caucus of moderate House Republicans — to set up a meeting with members of both groups who had been against the bill.
“To actually just talk one-on-one with no leadership, no anybody, other than just members in the room and say ‘OK what are your objections? What gets you to ‘yes’ from a more moderate side of our spectrum? What gets us to yes from a more conservative side of the spectrum?” Meadows said. “We feel like if we can get those two then everybody in between will get to a yes. We should have been doing this all along.”
An all-members gathering of Republican lawmakers Tuesday morning also seemed to help clear the air. Some members stayed at the meeting to hash things out more than half hour over the scheduled time.
“People think ‘the Freedom Caucus owes us an explanation’ — by golly the Freedom Caucus stood up and said ‘OK here’s where we were, here’s why we were where we were,’” Texas Rep. Randy Weber, a Freedom Caucus member, told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We stayed until the very end and leadership told me today, 'We noticed that you stayed.' ”
“At one point in time Paul Ryan said ‘now this is constructive, this is what we need to be doing,’ ” Weber continued.
Weber said that despite disagreements with leadership during the negotiation process, he thinks Ryan is doing a good job and said the whole Republican conference gave the speaker a standing ovation when he walked into the meeting. Weber also said he is now confident health care will be brought back up in the House.
House leaders walked out of the meeting with a spring in their step.
“After this morning, the resolve of our conference to repeal Obamacare and replace it has never been stronger,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told reporters Tuesday.
“Some of those who were in the ‘no’ camp expressed their willingness to work on getting to ‘yes’ and to make this work,’” Ryan said. “We saw good overtures from those members from different parts of our conference to get there.”
But questions remain about how a party so divided on the policy aspects of the bill will be able to craft legislation that Republican moderates and hardline conservatives can all back.
Conservatives believed the bill left too many government regulations in place and were unhappy with the timeline to scale back the Medicaid expansion, saying it wasn't being done fast enough. Meanwhile moderates were shaken by a Congressional Budget Office analysis that showed 24 million would lose health care by 2026 under the new bill. They also were concerned about rolling back Medicaid, which expanded under Obamacare and provided insurance to millions of low-income constituents.
Some Republicans — including one of the Freedom Caucus’ own — are tired of the Freedom Caucus and the constant negotiation they require.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, announced Sunday he was done being a member of the group.
“I think there was nothing that could be added to the bill that the Freedom Caucus would ever vote ‘yes’ on,” Poe said Monday on CNN. “I got the opinion that there were some members of the Freedom Caucus they’d vote no against the Ten Commandments.”
Moderate Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said Monday on CNN that Freedom Caucus members needed to learn that “governing is far different than being in opposition” and said he’d “gladly work across the aisle.”
Even the president, who called the Freedom Caucus members his “friends” Friday, seems to have decided they’re to blame for the collapse of the 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!” Trump tweeted Saturday. “The Republican House Freedom Caucus was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After so many bad years they were ready for a win!” he tweeted Monday.
“The Democrats will make a deal with me on healthcare as soon as ObamaCare folds — not long. Do not worry, we are in very good shape!” Trump followed on Twitter shortly after.
Meadows said he hasn’t spoken to the president since negotiations fell apart but he’s been working to reassure other administration officials he still wants to come up with a plan that can pass the House.