Trump is giving a lot of mixed messages about whom to blame on health care

Washington Post

Republicans' blame game for their failure to pass a health-care bill is in full swing. And — in a sharp contrast from Friday, when he pointed the finger at Democrats — President Donald Trump is turning his fire at his own party.

Here's what he tweeted Sunday morning:

"Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!"

It's a mixed message, to say the least. On Saturday night, Trump took to Twitter to urge people to watch Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who subsequently proceeded, on her show, to tear into House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and demand that he resign. (Both Pirro and Trump's top aides said there was no coordination on the matter.)

On Friday, as Republicans were pulling a bill they just couldn't build a coalition for, Trump didn't even mention his own party. "Hey, we could have done this," he told The Washington Post's Robert Costa as he announced that the Republicans had pulled the bill. "But we couldn't get one Democrat vote, not one."

Then, the New York Times Magazine reports Sunday that at one point during the negotiations, Trump told Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., co-leader of the moderate GOP Tuesday Group caucus: "I'm going to blame you" if the bill fails. In an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Dent did not deny the conversation.

But of all of Trump's finger-pointing, the one aimed at the conservative faction of his party feels the most notable.

Trump's admission that the hard-liners didn't come around suggests that he may be forced to recognize the limits of his dealmaking abilities. He spent the past few weeks courting these conservatives, hosting them at the White House several times. At one point, he even bragged that a lot of the "no's" had flipped to "yes's."

In the end, he didn't turn enough. Neither Trump nor Republican leaders could win over about a dozen of the 35 to 40 House Freedom Caucus members. Many of them wanted a repeal of the Affordable Care Act — something Republican leaders said they couldn't do under budget rules — or nothing at all.

But, as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a critic of the GOP bill, pointed out Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," there were other high-profile defections, as well, including Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

"When you lose the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee," Cotton said, "the problem is not with a specific faction in the House, it's with the bill."

Trump isn't the only one frustrated with the conservative caucus of his party.

In a remarkably frank and biting tweet Saturday night, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., targeted Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus:

"Mark Meadows betrayed Trump and America and supported Pelosi and Dems to protect Obamacare."

Establishment Republicans' simmering frustration with the conservative wing of their party is nothing new. The caucus has successfully thwarted budget deals and immigration proposals.

But the fact that Republicans' frustration has broken out into open warfare is a new development - and a sign of just how much the party is smarting from their health-care loss.

Their inability to pass health-care legislation despite having control of both chambers of Congress and the White House marks a stunning failure for the GOP's ability to show it can govern after eight years of not controlling all levers of power.

"Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains," Ryan acknowledged Friday. "And, well, we're feeling those growing pains today."

The Freedom Caucus declined to return fire Sunday at Trump, instead taking the opportunity to frame the narrative very differently.

"If they're applauding, they shouldn't," Meadows said of the Democrats on ABC's "This Week." "Because I can tell you, conversations over the last 48 hours are really about how we come together in the Republican Conference and get this over the finish line."

Whether Trump has finally found the group he thinks is responsible for his defeat — or points his finger elsewhere in the days ahead — is to be determined.

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