Failed healthcare Bill

Trump pins the blame on hardline Republicans

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says President Donald Trump is 'absolutely' serious about being willing to work with Democrats after last week's failed healthcare.

US President applies pressure on his party a day after he seemed to undermine Speaker

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has cast blame for the collapse of his effort to overhaul the healthcare system on conservative interest groups and far-right Republican lawmakers, shifting culpability to his own party after initially faulting Democratic intransigence.

His attack - starting with a tweet that singled out the House Freedom Caucus as well as the influential Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America - marked a new turn in the increasingly troubled relationship between the White House and a divided Grand Old Party (GOP) still adjusting to its unorthodox standard-bearer.

It served as a warning shot - with battles to come on issues like taxes and infrastructure - that Mr Trump will not hesitate to apply public pressure on those in his party he views as standing in the way.

His attack on Sunday had the look of a coordinated effort. His tweet appeared at 8.21am local time as Washington prepared to tune in to Sunday news shows: "Democrats are smiling in DC that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, (has) saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!"

Less than an hour later, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus appeared on television to echo his boss' sentiments, saying his missive hit "the bull's eye".

As if to rub salt in the GOP's wound, Mr Priebus hinted that Mr Trump may simply start looking past the Republican majority and try forging more consensus with moderate Democrats in future legislative battles.

Mr Trump, looking for a flicker of hope after his Republican majority fell to pieces last week, predicted that the opposition party would eventually give in. "I honestly believe the Democrats will come to us and say, 'let's get together and get a great healthcare Bill or plan'," he said.

But Democrats will not be lending a hand any time soon.

Invigorated by the Republican dysfunction that led to a stunningly swift collapse of the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and relieved that President Barack Obama's signature domestic accomplishment remains intact, Democrats are in their best position since the embarrassing loss in last November's election.

"We're not going to sacrifice our values for the sake of compromise," said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. "But I would say this," Mr Schumer added. "We Democrats, provided our Republican colleagues drop 'replace' and stop undermining the ACA, are willing to work with our Republican friends... to improve Obamacare. We never said it was perfect."

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the top House Democrat, said: "The unity we had internally, combined with the outside mobilisation, really made this success possible."

In a sign on Sunday of the ripple effects on the GOP's conservative flank, one high-profile member of the Freedom Caucus, Texas Republican Representative Ted Poe, quit the group and took a swipe at its opposition to the Trump-backed healthcare Bill.

The rising tensions followed a flurry of finger-pointing after last Friday's decision by Mr Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, to pull the healthcare measure, effectively ending for now the GOP's years-long quest to repeal Obamacare.

Mr Trump's tweet came a day after a strange episode that prompted speculation that he was seeking to undermine the standing of Mr Ryan.

Mr Trump encouraged his Twitter followers last Saturday to watch Ms Jeanine Pirro, one of his favorite Fox News Channel hosts, that night.

On her programme, Ms Pirro said that Mr Ryan should resign as Speaker, adding that despite his "swagger and experience", he presided over a failed effort that allowed "our President in his first 100 days to come out of the box like that".

Ms Pirro said there had been no coordination with Mr Trump in her messaging. "When he tweeted 'Watch Judge Jeanine tonight', he and I had absolutely no conversation, no discussion, no e-mail, nothing," she said.

Mr Priebus, in his Sunday appearance, dismissed the episode as a coincidence, and Mr Trump has said in recent days that he has a good relationship with Mr Ryan.

WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'Trump pins the blame on hardline Republicans'. Print Edition | Subscribe