Trump warns conservatives as tensions over health reform grow

President vows to fight Republicans who did not back healthcare act as travel ban suffers blow

US House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan during a press conference on Thursday, in which he said he understood President Donald Trump’s frustration at last week’s failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. Photograph:  Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

US House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan during a press conference on Thursday, in which he said he understood President Donald Trump’s frustration at last week’s failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

 

US president Donald Trump warned conservative Republicans that he may not support them in next year’s mid-term elections as tensions continued within the Republican party over last week’s failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Mr Trump vowed to “fight” the so-called House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 30 Republicans who failed to back the Republican-devised American Health Care Act last week, in a tweet posted on Thursday morning.

“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!” he said, raising the stakes in the increasingly acrimonious battle about who was to blame for the failure of the Republican party to garner sufficient support for the key healthcare reform package last week.

House speaker Paul Ryan, the leading policymaker behind the plan, said he sympathised with Mr Trump. “I understand the president’s frustration. It’s very understandable that the president is frustrated we’re not going where he wants to go,” he said at a press conference in Congress shortly after Mr Trump’s tweet.

The Republican Party suffered its first major policy defeat last week when it failed to garner sufficient support for its replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare. The split in the party forced Mr Ryan to pull the Bill which had been scheduled to go to the floor for a vote last Friday.

Despite reports that the House could vote again on the Bill next week, leading congressional officials played down the possibility of a second vote, with senior members of the House Freedom Caucus still opposed to elements of the Bill which they feel constitute a continued use of federal funds to support individual health insurance, an idea to which they are ideologically opposed.

Nonetheless, senior White House officials have been meeting conservative figures over the past few days in a bid to forge a way forward for the plan, as well as sounding-out support for other legislative proposals under consideration by the Trump administration such as tax reform.

Transgender

Meanwhile, legislators in North Carolina backed a deal to repeal a law prohibiting transgender people from using bathrooms that correlate to their gender identity, hours before the state was due to lose a number of lucrative basketball fixtures.

Democratic governor Roy Cooper said the compromise deal would help repair the state’s reputation, but LGBT activists criticised the Bill for not going far enough.

Under the compromise proposal, the original “bathroom Bill” would be repealed, but the new proposal would not extend to multi-stall restrooms and it would also not extend to places of work, hotels or restaurants until 2020.

North Carolina hit international headlines last year after the state introduced a law obliging transgender people to use bathrooms that correlated to the gender on their birth certificate, prompting a number of businesses to stall investment into the state and the cancellation of several events in protest.

Travel ban

In a separate development, Mr Trump’s executive order on immigration received a further blow late on Wednesday when Hawaii extended a stay on the controversial travel ban. District judge Derrick Watson announced he was extending what was a provisional stay into a temporary injunction after hearing arguments on both sides in the case.

The attorney general for the state of Hawaii, Douglas Chin, argued that Mr Trump’s revised travel ban – unveiled after the president’s original executive order halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries was stopped by the courts – impinged on the constitutional rights of Muslim citizens across the US. The implied message of the order, he said, was like a “neon sign flashing ‘Muslim ban, Muslim ban.” Mr Chin also quoted Mr Trump’s own description of the revised executive order as a “watered-down” version of the original.

The imam of a mosque in the state capital of Honolulu joined the legal challenge, arguing that the order prevented his mother in Syria from visiting her family in Hawaii.

In addition, the state of Hawaii argued that the measure affected recruitment for universities and had impacted negatively on tourism to the islands.

Thursday also saw the first public hearing by the Senate intelligence committee into Russian interference in the presidential election, with the committee hearing from three experts on Russia from the fields of academia and research.

Opening the proceedings, committee chairman Senator Richard Burr vowed to hold an impartial and independent hearing into the alleged Russian interference. But vice-chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat, criticised recent statements by Mr Trump.

“The president’s recent conduct – with his wild and uncorroborated accusations about wiretapping, and his inappropriate and unjustified attacks on America’s hard-working intelligence professionals – does give me grave concern,” he told the committee.

The committee confirmed on Wednesday that it had requested 20 individuals to attend the hearing, and had seven full-time staffers working on the inquiry. It comes as the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation effectively stalled following revelations that its chair, Devin Nunes, who was a member of the Trump transition team, visited White House grounds last week, prompting calls for him to recuse himself from the investigation.