White House chief of staff Reince Priebus has publicly defended his years-long friend House Speaker Paul Ryan amid Ryan’s failure on healthcare.
“No he doesn’t,” Priebus said when asked on Fox News Sunday if President Donald Trump wants Ryan to resign.
“He believes what he said in the Oval Office on Friday, he doesn’t blame Paul Ryan,” Priebus said. “He thought Paul Ryan worked really hard, enjoys his relationship with Paul Ryan, thinks that Paul Ryan is a great speaker of the house. None of that has changed.”
Priebus’ comments came after Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro called for Ryan to resign on Saturday night.
“Paul Ryan needs to step down as House speaker,” Pirro said in a lengthy rebuke of the Speaker, demanding his resignation. “The reason: He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill.”
— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 26, 2017
Pirro’s call for Ryan’s resignation came after President Trump tweeted earlier on Saturday that Americans should tune in to Pirro’s program on Saturday night. Pirro noted in her call for Ryan to resign that she did not talk to the president about it, but it is unclear if the president knew about it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2017
On Fox News Sunday, Priebus told host Chris Wallace that he thinks the president’s Tweet and her call for Ryan’s resignation were “more coincidental.”
“First of all, I will go on record, we do love Judge Jeanine, and so does the president,” Priebus said. “I think it was more coincidental.”
However, Priebus added, he had no way to know for sure if the president knew that Pirro was going to call for Ryan’s resignation over his failure on her show.
“I did not talk to the president about the Tweet,” Priebus said. “I’m just telling the truth. There is no preplanning here.”
Jonathan Swan of Axios offered an alternative theory on Twitter, suggesting that promotions for Pirro’s program focused on that the show would include new revelations on Trump’s allegations that former President Barack Obama’s administration surveilled his campaign and transition.
This makes much more sense. https://t.co/KJLlbRu0zR
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 26, 2017
Swan also quoted a “leadership aide,” presumably from Ryan’s office—that is how Ryan aides like their blind quotes attributed—denying that Ryan is in trouble at all.
Per leadership aide: "The president and speaker spoke by phone for almost an hour today about regrouping and moving forward on the agenda."
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 26, 2017
“The president and speaker spoke by phone for almost an hour today about regrouping and moving forward on the agenda,” a leadership aide told Swan on Saturday night.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, a Priebus and Ryan ally who on Friday evening told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum that Ryan’s future was up to members of the U.S. House, has not answered follow-up requests for comment on this matter.
On Sunday morning, at the urging of Priebus per a White House aide, the president tweeted blame at the House Freedom Caucus for what happened to Ryan’s healthcare bill.
Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 26, 2017
But blaming the Freedom Caucus is not even close to the whole story. In fact, senior House GOP sources in non-Freedom Caucus offices tell Breitbart News that the vote—if it would have happened—would have lost more moderates than Freedom Caucus members. House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and moderate non-Freedom Caucus members Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Mark Amodei (R-NV), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. David Young (R-IA), Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), as well as many more moderates were against the legislation publicly. Tuesday group co-chairman Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a leading moderate, came out in public opposition to the legislation too. Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), a conservative not in the House Freedom Caucus, came out against the bill publicly as did many other conservatives not in the House Freedom Caucus, too.
In fact, several senior House GOP aides and House GOP members in both Freedom Caucus and non-Freedom Caucus offices confirmed to Breitbart News that had the bill gone to the House floor for a vote there may have been as many as 100 House Republicans who voted against it. There is no way that the Freedom Caucus comprised the majority of Republicans opposing the bill.
Part of the reason why Ryan urged Trump to call off the vote he previously wanted—several House GOP leadership sources close to the Speaker tell Breitbart News—is because Ryan did not want the president to know what people like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) have been saying all along was true: the bill did not have much support inside the Republican conference in the House. Sen. Paul even said in an interview with Breitbart News that Speaker Ryan was deliberately misleading the president on this front. A floor vote would have demonstrated that fact, since more moderates—again, as many as 100 Republicans were prepared to vote against the bill—would have voted against it than House Freedom Caucus members.
Nevertheless, Priebus, during his Wallace interview, said Trump “hit the bulls-eye” with the Tweet he urged the president to send out despite its inaccuracy.
WH Chief Reince Priebus just said on Fox News Trump "hit the bulls-eye" with this tweet. https://t.co/rD9OGnu4eD
— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) March 26, 2017
For different reasons than the Republican establishment, Trump has had a longstanding feud with the Club For Growth. The group ran attack ads against him during the entire 2016 primary process, and the now president—in an interview with Breitbart News—called the Club a “pack of thieves.” Since Trump won, the Club For Growth has praised Trump on some matters and attacked him on others. But the Heritage Foundation has been solidly with Trump, with the exception of this legislation, as have been most members of the House Freedom Caucus.
In fact, the House Freedom Caucus members stood with Trump when most establishment Republicans—at Ryan’s urging—dropped him in October in the throes of the campaign. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the group’s chairman, was an ardent defender of Trump’s before he officially endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the GOP primaries last year. But even after he endorsed Cruz, he never bashed Trump—and always publicly defended Trump. When Trump won the nomination, Meadows went on to campaign with Trump and aggressively work to help elect him—proving to be an instrumental force in the battleground state of North Carolina with its 15 electoral votes.
The same cannot be said for Ryan, in the battleground state of Wisconsin. Ryan abandoned Trump, never campaigned with him, and Trump won Ryan’s home state and its 10 electoral votes anyway without the Speaker’s assistance.
Spicer has not answered when asked whether Priebus believes that Comstock, LoBiondo, Amodei, Ros-Lehtinen, Frelinghuysen, Young, Joyce, Dent, and all the other moderates who outnumbered Freedom Caucus members in opposition to Speaker Ryan’s bill also “have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!”
It turns out, too, that the alleged Planned Parenthood defunding in the legislation was, according to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)—another conservative who was opposed to the bill but is also not in the House Freedom Caucus—not real but a “bait and switch.” Massie cited the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report to respond to the president’s Priebus-inspired Tweet on Sunday morning to point that out.
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 26, 2017
On top of all that, though, the healthcare bill was deeply unpopular. Every poll that came out about the legislation showed deep dissatisfaction with it, and hinted at potential a potential anti-GOP bloodbath in favor of Democrats in the midterm elections in 2018.
Politico’s Tara Palmeri reported on Saturday that the president is again considering removing Priebus. Spicer, on Saturday evening, denied these reports to Breitbart News.
— Tara Palmeri (@tarapalmeri) March 25, 2017
“She is an idiot with no real sources,” Spicer said in an email about Palmeri when asked about her Tweet.
But Palmeri is the Politico reporter who broke the story earlier in the administration about how several original White House staffers failed to pass FBI background checks and had to be fired and walked out of the premises by security. That story turned out to be accurate. Palmeri also last week broke the story, with colleague Ben White, that Dina Powell would be deputy National Security Adviser. That was also accurate.
Spicer has not responded to a follow-up email, but Breitbart News can independently confirm the increase in chatter on the Priebus front—including multiple White House staffers and others close to the president over the past three days have told Breitbart News the replacement of Priebus is a possibility.
The White House, however, remains deeply divided on this front—and even some of Trump’s most ardent allies from the nationalist populist wing inside the White House, like chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and his closest allies, support Priebus. They are afraid that ousting Priebus may empower former Goldman Sachs chief Gary Cohn, a liberal Democrat who is director of the National Economic Council, to swoop into the position and move the White House irreparably to the political left—crippling Trump’s agenda once and for all. But many other names from the outside are being considered, sources close to the president both inside and outside the White House tell Breitbart News, and it remains to be seen what may or may not happen.
The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman also reported this weekend that Trump is blaming Priebus for the healthcare failure.
“On Friday evening, a somewhat shellshocked president retreated to the White House residence to grieve and assign blame. In a search for scapegoats, he asked his advisers repeatedly: Whose fault was this?” Thrush and Haberman—who the president himself called after Ryan’s health bill was pulled off the House floor—wrote.
Increasingly, that blame has fallen on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, who coordinated initial legislative strategy on the health care bill with Mr. Ryan, his close friend and a fellow Wisconsinite, according to three people briefed on the president’s recent discussions. Despite the public displays of unity with the speaker, Mr. Trump and his team now regret outsourcing so much of the early drafting to Mr. Ryan. One aide compared doing that to a developer’s staking everything on obtaining a property without conducting a thorough inspection. And they were stunned by his inability to master the politics of his own conference.
Priebus, in the Wallace interview on Sunday, defended his own job performance and future.
“I’m not in any trouble,” Priebus told Wallace. “I’ve got a great relationship with the president, we talk all the time. Just before coming on the set he gave me a call.”
Priebus dismissed that New York Times report as “gossip.”
“This is gossip, and it’s always going to happen,” Priebus said when asked about the Thrush-Haberman story. “I don’t really care about it, I’m looking forward to accomplishing the president’s agenda moving forward and working with anybody in the legislature to make sure that that happens.”
White House staff tell Breitbart News that Priebus was running point on the healthcare bill, not other staffers who joined in later to try to help save the bill, as moderates outnumbered conservatives in opposition to it. Furthermore, top Trump allies both inside and out of the White House disagree with Priebus’ efforts to publicly defend Ryan.
Priebus and Ryan have been friends and political collaborators for years, both rising to the national spotlight alongside one another from Wisconsin. In August 2012 in The Atlantic, Molly Ball wrote a piece detailing how alongside Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—a former Trump rival—Priebus and Ryan were the “Cheesehead Mafia.”
“Ryan, Walker and Priebus are three of the GOP’s brightest national stars, and Wisconsin — the state that helped birth the Progressive Movement and shape the New Deal — is suddenly the leading exporter of a hard-charging, sharply ideological brand of conservatism,” Ball wrote. “The Republican trio sometimes dubbed the ‘Cheesehead Mafia’ have made their state ‘the capital of the Obama-era Republican resistance,’ as one writer put it. And they are reshaping the Republican Party.”