President Trump has so far managed to avoid becoming a target for the conservative backlash to Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanBlack Caucus calls on Ryan to remove Nunes as Intel Committee chair Governing means supporting AHCA Overnight Healthcare: Insurers face big choice on staying in ObamaCare | HHS chief Price grilled over budget cuts MORE’s (R-Wis.) ObamaCare repeal and replace plan, even as the White House vigorously whips support for the bill.
Ryan hasn’t been so lucky.
Breitbart News, which has long been one of Ryan’s most vocal foes, panned the American Health Care Act as “Speaker Ryan’s ObamaCare 2.0.”
Powerful conservative groups Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, whose leaders discussed the issue with Trump on Wednesday, have branded the bill “RyanCare.” A FreedomWorks digital ad included a photoshopped image of former President Obama laughing with his arm around the Speaker.
And in an interview with Breitbart, Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump: 'No doubt' we'll make a deal on healthcare Overnight Defense: General says US strike probably led to civilian deaths | Tillerson to push NATO on spending | Trump taps F-35 chief Senate backs Montenegro's NATO membership MORE (R-Ky.) said Ryan is working to deceive Trump about the bill, accusing the Speaker of “trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the president.”
“What we’ve seen from President Trump in 49 days in office is that he’s working to keep the promises he made on the campaign trail, so I’m encouraged and optimistic about that,” said Tea Party Patriots president Jenny Beth Martin, who met with Trump on Wednesday.
“What concerns me is that we don’t trust the leadership in the House or the Senate to keep their promises.”
In an interview with The Hill, Martin said she’s grown tired of years of congressional leaders promising to repeal ObamaCare — if only they had the majorities to do so.
“We have heard from thousands of our supporters who are upset about Paul Ryan’s bill. They want full repeal. We’ve seen so many excuses come from Capitol Hill,” Martin continued. “We’ve heard them all and we’re wise to it now.”
In a Thursday podcast produced by RealClearPolitics, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who has been at the forefront of conservative GOP opposition to the bill, accused House Republican leaders of “putting Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFederal judge extends order blocking Trump's revised travel ban Texas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 Budowsky: Putin’s KGB super PAC MORE in a very bad place” by framing the debate as a choice between going with the House bill or siding with Democrats and keeping ObamaCare.
“They’re using that as a selling point, but I can tell you that the last person that wants to be in a fight with President Trump is me,” Meadows said. “Most of these people that are out there doing that, they didn’t campaign with him. I did. ... Now all of the sudden, there’s a choice between [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump? I don’t get it.”
Ryan isn't taking the criticism lying down.
"It would be good if Republicans spent more energy trying to repeal and replace ObamaCare and less planning for failure," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.
And during a chart-filled PowerPoint presentation Thursday, Ryan argued that the bill was “modeled” on legislation crafted by former Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a past chairman Republican Study Committee who is now secretary of Health and Human Services. A dozen Freedom Caucus members co-sponsored that bill just last December, Ryan said.
“This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing ObamaCare,” Ryan said. “The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment.”
And he’s going into the lion’s den to sell the bill, sitting for tough questions on shows hosted by Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.
In a Wednesday night interview, Carlson grilled Ryan, questioning why a bill that Republicans had years to agree on would face such backlash, alleging that Ryan was slow-walking Trump’s agenda. Carlson even jabbed Ryan on the Easter recess, saying that House Republicans were spending too much time away from Capitol Hill.
“We spent a year working on this plan,” Ryan responded. “All House Republicans participated in this. We had these working groups where anybody who had an idea brought it to the table and then we reached consensus as conservatives, as the Republicans, on what that plan looked like. We called it 'A Better Way,' we put it on the internet, we all ran for Congress in 2016 on that plan. It was modeled on ... Tom Price’s legislation. That's what this is. This is the legislative text of that plan that we ran in 2016 on what we would replace ObamaCare with.”
Meadows disputed Ryan’s claim that “A Better Way” was equivalent to the new repeal and replace plan, saying it was merely a group of broad principles he and other Republicans agreed on, while “most members read about what was in [the AHCA] from a leaked draft to a [news] publication.”
White House support for the healthcare bill could prove crucial.
The Hill has reported that Ryan and chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, who hounded Ryan as chairman of Breitbart News, have forged a positive working relationship. Bannon did not respond to a request for comment about Ryan’s handling of the healthcare bill.
A White House official told The Hill that “Trump and his administration have been working collaboratively with House and Senate leadership” and that they are “confident that this is the bill that is going to repeal and replace the disastrous ObamaCare law.”
“This bill will land on the president’s desk, he will sign it,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a briefing with reporters, calling Ryan’s Thursday presentation “a very good PowerPoint.”
Meanwhile, conservative groups and lawmakers are emerging from meetings praising Trump for being open to negotiation, while hanging their displeasure with the bill squarely on GOP leadership in the House.
“The legislation as it is now is House leadership legislation,” said Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips, who also met with Trump on Wednesday. “There are good things in it. We appreciate that. But it’s not what they promised, which is full repeal of ObamaCare.”