Trump chews out Republican hardliners

Stung by healthcare Bill failure, he threatens to fight House Freedom Caucus in 2018 polls

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has fighting words for conservatives in his own Republican Party who helped to block a healthcare Bill last week, saying he would oppose House Freedom Caucus members in 2018 elections if they did not get on board.

"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!" Mr Trump said on Twitter yesterday.

The real estate magnate, who touted his skills as a deal-maker in his 1987 book The Art Of The Deal, has accused Freedom Caucus lawmakers of snatching "defeat from the jaws of victory" with their rejection of the White House-backed healthcare Bill to replace former president Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare reform Bill.

Going further yesterday, he equated members of his own party with Democrats, reflecting the extent to which he may have felt betrayed by the conservative lawmakers after the collapse of his first legislative initiative.

The mistrust between the White House and hardline conservatives in Congress has cast a pall over the next big item on the Republican agenda - tax reform.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said in an interview broadcast yesterday that he feared the Republican Party is pushing the President to the other side of the aisle so that he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare.

"I don't want that to happen," Mr Ryan told CBS' This Morning programme, referring to Mr Trump's offer to work with Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee will begin, as soon as next Monday, privately interviewing 20 people in its ongoing investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election as well as potential ties to the Trump campaign, its leaders said on Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

The committee was due to hold yesterday a public hearing on Russian influence on campaigns broadly.

The media briefing was called just as the House Intelligence Committee's investigation appeared to be grinding to a halt over discord after its Republican chairman, Mr Devin Nunes, met an unidentified source at the White House complex last week.

In response to questions, committee chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, said he has not coordinated with the White House to set the scope of the Senate committee's investigation.

He insisted that, although he advised President Trump during his campaign - and voted for him - he could conduct the probe objectively.

He promised also to "test" some of Mr Trump's appointees during the investigation, to see whether they were ready to work with the committee's investigation regardless of whether the President tries to influence them not to, as Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo and director of national intelligence Daniel Coats pledged to do during their confirmation hearings.

Most of the initial 20 interviews the committee will conduct are with "the people who helped put together the January report", vice-chairman Mark Warner said, referring to a report the intelligence community put out stating that Russia interfered in the presidential election with the goal of trying to improve Mr Trump's chances of winning.

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'Trump chews out Republican hardliners'. Print Edition | Subscribe