Bitter GOP finger-pointing clouds path for Trump agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is hoping to drive his priorities forward following the crumbling of the Republican health care bill but GOP finger-pointing is rampant, underscoring how tough it will be to produce the unity the party will need.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, criticized the contrarian House Freedom Caucus on Monday, a day after resigning from the hard-right group because it helped sink the Republican health care effort.

"You can have your principles and then when it comes to voting, you have to compromise to get something passed," Poe said of the caucus, which has roughly three dozen members.

"It will continue to be the opposition party in the party," said Poe, who said he would have supported the measure. "We cannot be effective if we continue to vote no."

One Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said Trump got bad advice "from some in leadership who said that some of us should not even exist up here. We need to be on a team and get a good product."

Brat said that could be done "in short order."

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On the other side of the GOP spectrum, moderate Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., corroborated a New York Times report that Trump told him he was destroying the party by opposing the Republican bill.

"Well, it's just another day at the office for me, I guess," Dent said. Dent said the party's most conservative wing was never going to back the bill and that making concessions to them "alienated moderates."

The failed GOP bill, which party leaders withdrew shortly before a House vote that was doomed to failure, would have repealed much of former President Barack Obama's health care law. It would have voided its tax penalties on people for not buying insurance, tax increases on high earners and health industry firms, and expansion of Medicaid for low-income people. It would have also blocked federal payments to Planned Parenthood.

Trump initially focused blame for the measure's failure on Democrats and predicted a dire future for the current law. On Sunday, Trump turned his criticism toward conservative lawmakers for the failure of the Republican bill, complaining on Twitter: "Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!"

But there were mixed messages from the White House.

Trump aides said the president could seek support from moderate Democrats on upcoming legislative battles ranging from the budget and tax cuts to health care, leaving open the possibility he could revisit health care legislation. Whether he would work to repair Obama's law was a big question.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus scolded conservative Republicans, explaining that Trump had felt "disappointed" with 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."

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."

Trump faces decisions on whether to back administrative changes to fix Obama's health care law 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."

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 Democratic leader Chuck Schumer offered to find common ground with Trump for repairing Obama's statute.

Schumer said Sunday that Trump must be willing to drop attempts to repeal his predecessor's signature achievement, warning that Trump was destined to "lose again" on other parts of his agenda if he remained beholden to conservative Republicans.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, suggested that if Trump changes, "he could have a different presidency."

On Saturday, Trump urged Americans in a tweet to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro's program on Fox News that night. She led her show by calling for House Speaker Paul Ryan to resign, blaming him for the 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.

Poe, Dent and Brat spoke Monday on CNN. Priebus spoke on "Fox News Sunday," and Schumer and Meadows appeared on ABC's "This Week."


Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.