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Republicans 'Turn The Cannons On Each Other' In Week Of Public Feuding

By Susan Davis | NPR
Friday, March 31, 2017

President Trump escalated a Twitter war with lawmakers in his own party on Thursday evening, calling out three members of the Freedom Caucus by name.

"If @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform," he tweeted.

The attack follows an earlier 140-character missive aimed at both the Freedom Caucus and Democrats. It's a curious tactic, given that Trump's only two options to pass his agenda through Congress are to either unite the fractured GOP or to form new alliances across the aisle.

"The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" Trump tweeted on Thursday morning.

It did not change hearts or minds.

"Freedom Caucus stood with u when others ran. Remember who your real friends are. We're trying to help u succeed," replied Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of the group of conservatives who helped take down the GOP health care bill.

The public and personal feuding among Republicans percolated throughout the U.S. Capitol this week as GOP confidence in their party's ability to govern alongside the Trump administration is shaken.

"It's clear that tensions are running high," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "I believe we can come together, and the only way for us to govern and deliver on our promises is for Republicans not to turn the cannons on each other, but stand united behind shared principles, and that's what I hope all of us do."

The White House has provoked congressional Republicans further in recent days by suggesting he'll just go around them and cut deals with Democrats instead.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., tried to head off any potential alliance, telling CBS: "I don't want that to happen." Ryan's reasoning — correctly — is that if the president needs Democrats to pass major legislation, it will be a lot less conservative than anything the speaker hopes to enact in the next two years.

Ryan was more conciliatory toward the president than Labrador.

"This is a can-do president, who's a business guy, who wants to get things done, and I know that he wants to get things done with a Republican Congress," Ryan told CBS. "But if this Republican Congress allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good, I worry we'll push the president into working with the Democrats. He's suggested as much."

Across the Capitol, Ryan's argument did not impress at least one prominent fellow Republican. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn. called out Ryan, again on Twitter: "We have come a long way in our country when the speaker of one party urges a president NOT to work with the other party to solve a problem."

House Republicans' health care failure has left Senate Republicans wondering if they need to shoulder more of the legislative burden. In that event, Democrats will be integral to the process because of the 60-vote hurdle to do most of the legislating in the Senate.

For their part, Democrats say they are ready — if not exactly excited — to work with the president. "We say, 'any time, anywhere,' " House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on Thursday. "We never stand in the way of anyone meeting with a Democratic or a Republican president."

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., chairs the New Democrat Coalition, a faction of about four dozen business-friendly Democrats that, in theory, stand ready to work with the president on certain agenda items, like infrastructure spending. But Himes hasn't heard from the president. "No, the White House has not reached out," he said. "We're totally willing to engage in that, provided that it's consistent with our values."

Himes also said the burden to extend the olive branch rests on the other side of the aisle. "Look, these guys run the show now. They've got the Oval Office, they've got the Senate and the House. If they're interested in having our support, it's kind of on them to come to us."

At least in the short term, Republicans have decided they need to work with Democrats to keep the government open. The federal government faces a shutdown on April 28 unless Congress enacts another stopgap spending bill or passes the remaining annual spending bills.

Seeking to head off another shutdown fight, GOP leaders and the appropriations committees are working behind the scenes on a bill to enact the remaining 11 spending bills at previously agreed to spending levels that conservatives opposed in the past. They are also looking to separate out the president's funding request to start building a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and the speaker has indicated Republicans will not add in "poison pill" policy riders on things like defunding Planned Parenthood.

All of those concessions are intended to bring Democrats on board to make sure Congress can pass the legislation. The end result is a less conservative vision of how Congress should spend the nation's money. If it works, it might also provide a framework for how this Congress will work going forward.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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