President Donald Trump threatened to defeat members of the House Freedom Caucus in the midterm elections in a tweet Thursday morning, continuing an inter-party spat that emerged after they helped scuttle his bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Trump's tweet warned Republicans that the group of about 30 congressman congressmen will hurt the party's agenda if they don't get in line, and urged a fight against them, along with Democrats, in the midterms.
The House Freedom Caucus' Twitter account responded Thursday afternoon by retweeting caucus member Rep. Jim Jordan's, R-Ohio, quote during an interview on the changing conventional Washington politics.
Within an hour of Trump's tweet, another member of the caucus Rep. John Amash, R-Mich., fired back on Twitter by saying Trump had already succumbed to the establishment in Washington, something the president railed against during his campaign.
Later in the day, Rep. Raul Labrador reminded President Trump in a tweet of the support the Freedom Caucus lent during difficult times, without mentioning specific issues.
A spokeswoman for the president, asked by NBC News if his tweet meant the president was pushing for primary challenges to members of his own party, said "the tweet speaks for itself."
In the evening, President Trump got back on Twitter and called out on Freedom Caucus members Reps. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, Jim Jordan, R-Ohio and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, in back to back tweets.
Amash was one of the rebels against the Republican plan to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health care bill, along with others in the Freedom Caucus and some moderates. House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill, the American Health Care Act, from the floor Friday when it was clear he didn't have enough votes for it to pass. Even if it had, several Republican senators had expressed reservations about it.
Defying President Donald Trump on the seven-year Republican Party promise to repeal and replace "Obamacare" could appear to be political suicide, especially in the congressional districts Trump won handily. Yet in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Iowa in the bitter aftermath of the GOP's epic failure, Republicans who blocked the legislation have won praise from constituents for stopping what many saw as a flawed plan, either in the legislation's substance or strategy.
Conservatives opposed the bill because it didn't go far enough in getting the government out of health care while moderates worried that tens of millions of Americans might be left without insurance.
One of the House Republican rebels, Kentucky Rep. Tom Massie, who wasn't just "no" on the bill but a "hell no," tweeted to Trump Thursday that they both came to D.C. to drain the swamp.
His vote won over Mary Broecker, president of the Oldham County Republican Women's Club and a strong proponent of a full-blown repeal of the 2010 law.
"When he came out against this bill, I thought, 'I trust him so this must be the right way,'" the 76-year-old retired teacher said of Massie this week as she sat at a coffee shop near her LaGrange home.
Nationwide, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Wednesday found that 62 percent disapprove of the way Trump is handling health care, his worst rating among seven issues the poll tested, including the economy, foreign policy and immigration.
The same poll found negative views of five of the six changes Republicans envisioned for the bill, including allowing insurers to charge older customers higher premiums than is now allowed, reduced funds for Medicaid and denying federal dollars to Planned Parenthood.
Yet the same voters who backed their local lawmaker for opposing the bill showed patience with Trump.
"I think he's going to be a great president," Broecker said. "I think he'll figure it out."
In the districts of the bill's foes, Republican voters and activists faulted Ryan, who on Thursday said it's understandable that the president was venting frustration with the tweet.
Some argue Ryan was too willing to accept pieces of "Obamacare."
"We've been hearing repeal-and-replace for seven years and finally we get control, and they say, 'Let's just kind of fix it,'" said 31-year-old Justin Wasson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who runs a small business. "We gave them everything. Now, I want this thing gutted."
With midterm elections coming next year, Wasson said he planned to vote again for his congressman, Rep. Rod Blum of Dubuque — a sentiment echoed by other voters whose representatives opposed the bill.
Kelly Stanger of Lowell, Michigan, argued that conservatives were prevented from contributing to the bill, and said she'd vote again for Amash.
"He has no problem taking heat," the 50-year-old cafe waitress said. "I don't think just because you belong to a party that you have to agree."