Texas GOP Rep. Ted Poe's exit from the House Freedom Caucus after it helped sink the Republicans’ ObamaCare overhaul has created widespread uncertainty about the political future of the caucus and its roughly 35 other members.
The picture emerging Monday appeared to be that caucus members realize that their future largely depends on fulfilling campaign promises to fully repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.
“You cannot always say no,” Poe told Fox News Monday morning, about 12 hours after his resignation from the conservative caucus and three days after House Speaker Paul Ryan cancelled a final vote on the bill in the GOP-led chamber.
Poe, who supported the overall plan crafted by Ryan and his leadership team, also addressed the argument posed by President Donald Trump and others that voting against the plan could result in a 2018 re-election loss.
“I think we will repeal it,” said Poe, a seven-term congressman. “We will do that.”
Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a caucus co-founder, said Monday, "We still have time."
Trump met several times with Freedom Caucus members in recent weeks, with a focus on winning support from group leader Rep. Mark Meadows, even inviting him to the White House and his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago.
However, Trump, amid the realization that the GOP plan might fail, hinted last week in a closed-door Capitol Hill meeting that non-supporters could suffer a primary defeat next year and said to Meadows, “Oh Mark, I'm going to come after you.”
Meadows, R-N.C., brushed aside both comments.
“I serve at the will of 750,000 people in western North Carolina. I’m going to be a ‘no’ even if it sends me home,” he said. “I don’t know of too many people who can challenge me on the right.”
Still, voters in Meadows’ largely blue-collar district and in some other conservative-leaning parts of the country appear to expect House Republicans to make good on repeal and replace vows.
“They will come up with a plan that will make health care better for all Americans," Ralph Slaughter, chairman of North Carolina’s Jackson County Republican Party, told Politico over the weekend.
Meadows has signaled a desire to revisit the issue. But he and others might have missed their opportunity, considering Trump and Ryan now appear eager to move to tax reform and other big policy issues.
Poe also told Fox News Monday that he has discussed his departure with members of the Freedom Caucus, which pushed out House Speaker John Boehner in 2015, apparently for not being conservative enough.
But none has expressed a desire to resign, too, he said.
The Harris County Republican Party, in Poe’s east Texas district, declined Monday to talk about Poe’s decision and whether re-election fears could have been a factor.
Capitol Hill sources said Monday that caucus members and other House Republicans who opposed the overhaul plan still appear in a moment of reflection about a possible missed opportunity and the need to govern.
“Poe’s departure is a sign that the Freedom Caucus needs to shift gears into a legislative mode,” said David Payne, a Republican strategist and partner at Washington-based Vox Global. “They’ve proven they can be a purity check. Now, they’ll need to prove that they’re a legislative force.”
Payne also argued that if House Republicans can unite and pass important bills in the coming weeks, the health care bill failure will quickly fade from memory.
“But if a trend develops, the caucus might push Trump into the arms of moderate Democrats willing to pull bills to the left in exchange for passage,” he said.