Freedom Caucus Members Say Pence Apologizes for Feud, Pushes Truce With Health Care on the Line

(AP)

Vice President Mike Pence has offered to broker a peace accord with the White House and the House Freedom Caucus, a move that could lead the small but powerful faction of Congress to eventually support President Trump’s health-care overhaul, the FOX Business Network has learned.

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The president’s health care initiative failed two weeks ago amid criticism from the Freedom Caucus—a fiscally conservative faction inside the House GOP – that it didn’t include enough free-market initiatives to effectively reverse ObamaCare’s vast array of insurance mandates that form the current health care system.

Without the support of the 36-member Freedom Caucus, Speaker Paul Ryan decided not to bring the president’s bill to the floor of the House for a vote, effectively killing the measure at least for the immediate future.

Trump and members of the White House then began to openly criticize the Freedom Caucus for obstructing heath care reform. The White House’s director of social media Dan Scavino personally attacked one key Freedom Caucus member, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, in a tweet that stated: “the #TrumpTrain (will) defeat him in primary.”

But in a meeting Monday night with the Freedom Caucus, Pence offered to broker a truce, and even offered what some people inside the meeting considered an apology, for the heated rhetoric coming out of the White House against individual members, according to people who were present at the meeting.

Pence’s statement came after the Caucus’s chairman, North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, asked Pence to “address attacks coming from the White House” against the group, said one person in the room.

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Pence, this person said, “Noted…I absolutely understand” the concerns of the Caucus about the attacks.

Pence then offered what the person took as an apology and started the process of brokering peace between both sides. “Based on the conversation they had I very much think there will not be any more attacks on our members any time soon,” said one person at the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

This account was confirmed by Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Meadows, who had no further comment. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t immediately return a telephone call and email for comment.

Pence may be best positioned to broker a détente between the White House and the Caucus; when he served in Congress before becoming governor of Indiana, we was considered among its most fiscally conservative members.

Pence was an early supporter of the Tea Party movement, which began during the early years of the Obama administration as a counterweight to various progressive policies such as ObamaCare, higher taxes and expanded financial regulations that the former president enacted with the help of a Democratically controlled House and Senate.  

President Trump has vowed to reverse those policies, with reforming ObamaCare his first major initiative. In recent days, the president and Ryan have taken steps to rework the health care proposal, though a new vote is far from imminent.

Still, getting a health care deal is important because Ryan and some members of Congress say it contains budget savings that will allow the president and the Republican led House and Senate to pass a sweeping tax reform bill including slashing the corporate income tax from its current level of 35% to around 15%.

The US has one of the highest corporate income taxes in the world, and the stock market has risen nearly 2,000 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since Trump was elected on the notion that large tax cuts, particularly in the corporate arena, will boost corporate earnings, economic growth and thus stocks prices in the long run.

It’s unclear if the détente being brokered by Pence between the Freedom Caucus and his tempestuous boss – known to use his Twitter account to attack political opponents and the media – will last or if it will materialize in the Caucus supporting a White House health care proposal.

During the Monday night meeting, Pence and White House officials, including Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, offered a proposal that a new health care bill would allow states the ability to opt-out of certain ObamaCare mandates.

These measures force all insurers to provide what’s known as “essential health benefits”—like maternity care and treatment for drug abuse – even to people who don’t need or use such services.

The proposal was designed to address objections by Caucus members that the Trump plan allowed far too many of ObamaCare’s insurance mandates to remain, thus increasing the cost of policies that have begun to skyrocket in some states.

Some members of the Caucus speaking on the condition of anonymity liked what they heard from Pence both in terms of his apology and his acknowledgment that the White House’s initial plan didn’t go far enough in reversing ObamaCare.

But in the difficult political dynamics of health care, winning over the Freedom Caucus could risk losing more moderate votes, even among Republicans, who view any weakening of the essential health benefit clause as a pathway to allowing insurance companies to no longer cover patients’ pre-existing conditions.

Meanwhile, other Caucus members remain skeptical of the administration’s truce given the various political factions inside the Trump White House that are vying for power.

Meadows, for instance, has a good relationship with Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s most powerful advisers. But he and his members are more skeptical of Reince Priebus, who before becoming Trump’s chief of staff served as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

In recent days, a growing consensus among members of the Caucus has emerged that Priebus was advising President Trump to go on the offensive against them in what they say is the latest public salvo in a long-simmering feud.

They point to Priebus’ long friendship with House Speaker Ryan, one of the main architects of Trump’s failed health care proposal. Ryan and members of the conservative faction of the House GOP have butted heads in the past over issues such as immigration and spending, and now health care.

Now they believe it was Priebus who convinced Trump to attack them instead of Ryan for the plan’s failure. One attendee of Monday night’s meeting noted that while Preibus was in attendance, he rarely spoke.

“He had almost no role in the discussions” that night, this person said. “Pence did 95% of the talking.”

A spokeswoman for Meadows declined to comment on the friction between Priebus and the Caucus.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump’s tweets against the Freedom Caucus were based on his belief that their vote against health care hurt the American people, and they were not the result of Priebus’s influence.

“It’s insulting to suggest that President Trump could so easily be convinced to abandon his core political briefs and steadfast supporters,” she said.

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