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Trump Reignites GOP Firestorm With Tweet Challenging Freedom Caucus


On the other side of Capitol Hill, President Trump has reignited a fire in his own party. Not surprisingly, he did that with a tweet this morning, which read, The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast; we must fight them and Dems in 2018. The president blames the House Freedom Caucus for the failure of the health care bill.

So to sort through what this means for Republicans and the president is NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.


SHAPIRO: There was a lot of focus on the divide within the Republican Party when President Obama was in the White House. Now that the Republican Party controls everything - Congress and the White House - why are the mainstream Republicans still fighting with their right flank, the Freedom Caucus?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, look. I've been saying for a while that President Trump is not really a traditional Republican. He's more what I would liken to right-wing nationalist, the kind that you've seen coming to prominence in Europe, for example. That's presented Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell with a potential problem here.

And it's been something of a marriage of convenience for Trump and Ryan and McConnell. As long as Trump could get through the traditional, conservative Republican agenda, they were all going to get along. But there was always the potential that if he went the other way, that they wouldn't.

SHAPIRO: Is the Freedom Caucus feeling much pressure?

MONTANARO: Look. They know that they have to try to work with Trump, and they know how popular he is in their districts. For example, he won them by an average of 26 points. But look. These aren't the kinds of people that are just going to wilt. And just today, Justin Amash of the Freedom Caucus from Michigan - congressman - he came out and tweeted that it didn't take long for the swamp to drain Trump.

SHAPIRO: Ouch (laughter).

MONTANARO: Yeah, a reference to Trump saying that he'd go to Washington and drain the swamp. And Raul Labrador said that the Freedom Caucus stood with you when others ran; remember who your real friends are.

SHAPIRO: There is another option here, which is that President Trump could try to work with Democrats.


SHAPIRO: How likely is that?

MONTANARO: You know, here's what's funny about this. Trump himself has seemed to flirt with this idea. Friday right after the bill was pulled, he said that he thinks he could get something done with Democrats, and just two nights ago before a bipartisan group of senators at the White House, he said this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. That's such an easy one.


TRUMP: So I have no doubt that that's going to happen very quickly. I think it will actually. I think it's going to happen.

MONTANARO: (Laughter) Of course it's not easy. The problem here is that Republicans have been waiting for this moment for a decade - to control Congress and the presidency again. They aren't about to give that up so easily and quickly. In fact, this morning on CBS, House Speaker Paul Ryan knocked down the idea of working across the aisle on health care.


PAUL RYAN: If we don't do this, then he'll just go work with Democrats to try and change Obamacare, and that's not going to - that's hardly a conservative thing.

SHAPIRO: If President Trump is declaring war on the Freedom Caucus and Paul Ryan is saying he won't work with Democrats, is there any path for anything to get done here?

MONTANARO: Well, obviously something has to give. If the House Freedom Caucus is going to stick to their guns and Paul Ryan has indicated he's not going to work with Democrats, almost nothing can get done, especially looking forward to something as difficult as the tax overhaul that they'd like to accomplish.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.