Steve Bannon was furious.
Last weekend, the Washington Examiner published a story claiming that President Donald Trump had vowed to back primary challengers to run against Republicans who oppose the GOP's health care plan. The article named Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows as a "possible target." Bannon believed the story was categorically untrue, according to sources, and he met with Meadows over the weekend as speculation mounted about who was behind it.
Multiple House Republican whips denied that Trump made the threat during the meeting with GOP leaders cited in the story. But a few days later, Trump leaned on Paul Ryan to compromise with the House's far-right flank, which has dubbed the speaker's health care bill "Obamacare-Lite."
The Freedom Caucus may not need to fear Trump-backed primary challengers because of this episode. But the group, nonetheless, is taking a big risk in threatening to blow up Ryan’s health care proposal: Its passage is a top priority for Trump and could have ramifications for the rest of the president's agenda. Trump told GOP vote counters last week that he’d do everything in his power to get it through Congress.
The Freedom Caucus, however, has clearly found a sympathetic ear in Trump’s right-hand man Bannon, who wants conservatives to be included in the legislative process instead of twisting their arms to vote yes. The fledgling alliance has given the group newfound hope that they can win the White House over to their side — or, at least, that Trump won’t blame them if Obamacare repeal implodes.
“The last thing I want is for the president to be mad at me,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told POLITICO in a brief interview on Thursday. “He asked me to negotiate in good faith, so I have been working around the clock to negotiate in good faith, reaching out to people that I would not normally reach out to. He understands that no one wants a deal more than me.”
Allies of Ryan say the speaker can’t possibly agree to everything that conservatives are requesting, and they don't believe Meadows and the Freedom Caucus have engaged in good faith. They also argue that Ryan, at the White House's behest, is trying to incorporate their wishes while still getting the bill passed within a week.
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