The House Freedom Caucus threw down the gauntlet on Republican leaders' proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now those leaders warn that if the bill tanks Thursday, they will bear the blame and incur President Trump's considerable wrath.
Sticking by one's principles and holding out for changes is fine, but Republicans have promised to repeal Obamacare for eight years, one Republican lawmaker told the Washington Examiner. But the lawmaker wondered, do they really want to be the ones who force the GOP to break that promise? And how are they going to explain themselves to their constituents back home?
They will come around when it's time to vote Thursday, the lawmaker predicted.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said that most constituents in the districts his members represent want them to vote down the bill.
"I'm trying to let my members vote the way their constituents would want them to vote," Meadows told reporters. "And the majority of those would be to vote against this bill."
Privately and publicly other Republicans are saying most voters won't credit conservatives for sticking to their guns, but rather will question Republicans' ability to govern.
"This is a leading indicator about whether we're going to have a functioning and workable majority," Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., who is on the whip team, told the Washington Examiner.
"This is our chance and this is our moment," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told his colleagues Tuesday. "It's a big moment. And I think our members are beginning to appreciate just what kind of a rendezvous with destiny we have right here."
Trump warned all Republicans that they will lose their majority in the midterm elections if they cannot deliver on this promise.
Publicly, the bill's most vocal conservative opponents are standing firm.
"We'll be blamed," Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., acknowledged about the Freedom Caucus' culpability if the House does not pass the bill Thursday. "But we promised for eight years, six years, that we're going to repeal it," he told the Washington Examiner. "This is not a repeal."
Brat said the dire predictions that the entire GOP agenda falls apart if the bill does not pass this week are overblown.
"Leadership isn't gonna walk away," he said. "We're all going to come…and say: 'Alright, let's get this thing done.' So we'll go back, have a real debate, and then we'll get a solution. And then everyone's happy."
Despite such bravado, some conservatives are worried about taking the fall for failure and looking for an out, Capitol Hill sources told the Washington Examiner.
And although Brat for one has previously scoffed at the idea of being on the receiving end of Trump's Twitter rants, others are less comfortable with the idea, Republican staffers and lawmakers have said.
Meadows says he and other caucus members will change their tunes if they get more of what they want, such as being able to offer amendments during Thursday's debate, a decision the Rules Committee will make Wednesday morning.
"We're going to be very, very available at the Rules Committee," Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, offered Freedom Caucus members. "I'm sure they will want to come talk with me about it, discuss it," he told the Washington Examiner. "We're going to do all we can do to listen and to help people out because we're going to pass the bill."
As to whether Meadows will get his way, Sessions, whose chairmanship makes him a member of leadership, said his door is wide open.
"I've heard of Mark Meadows, and he's a good man," Sessions deadpanned. "We believe that he outta come to talk with me as soon as he wants to."
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said satisfied or not with the bill, Republicans who buck him are only helping the Democrats.
"Nancy Pelosi's voting 'no,'" he told Fox News on Tuesday. "And so everybody's got to recognize a 'no' vote is to vote with Nancy Pelosi to keep Obamacare."
The first lawmaker said the choice is simple, vote with leadership or watch Pelosi, the California Democrat, become speaker again.