South Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Sanford saw conflicting messages coming from President Donald Trump’s tweets Thursday criticizing the House Freedom Caucus for not supporting Republican leadership’s health care bill.
Trump began criticizing the group that Friday morning before the vote and after repeated negotiations, and occasional threats, fell flat.
Sanford, a member of the Freedom Caucus, has referred to the Republicans’ health care bill as a “watered-down” repeal of Obamacare, and he voted against it in the House Budget Committee. He was leaning toward voting against it on the House floor as well.
Sanford told McClatchy that he thinks the series of tweets send contradictory messages that may ultimately prove unproductive both with bipartisan outreach and with outreach among different GOP factions.
He added that Trump, in criticizing the Freedom Caucus, might be reacting too harshly to a group that was looking out for the best interests of U.S. citizens.
“So the idea of shooting the messenger, of saying, ‘Wait, they don’t like a bill that the American public doesn’t like,’ I think is a case of shooting messengers that I think are rightfully bringing up warranted concerns with a bill that, at this point, the American public has not shown a reception for,” Sanford said.
Citing his previous experience as South Carolina’s governor of eight years, Sanford also warned Trump that threatening Republican members to fall in line with GOP leadership’s health care plans is ineffective.
You know, the carrots work a lot better than sticks in the world of politics.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
“You know, the carrots work a lot better than sticks in the world of politics, and the idea of threatening your way to legislative success may not over the long run prove to be the wisest of strategies,” Sanford said.
Trump has repeatedly threatened members to back his bill or face a tough time getting re-elected. Sanford, however, did not elaborate on whether he specifically felt intimidated by Trump.
“What I’ve found is that generally members of Congress have spent a lot more time in their congressional district, talking to voters, getting to know them, going to weddings, funerals and the like and really getting a feel for the competition within the district than someone living 500 miles away,” Sanford said. “Nobody wants to be threatened by anybody in politics, whether that’s an irate constituent in a town hall meeting or whether that happens to be the president of the United States.”
South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan, another member of the House Freedom Caucus, declined to comment on Trump’s tweets this week. Duncan also criticized earlier versions of the Republican health care bill, but by the time the legislation made it to the floor he was leaning toward supporting it, according to a spokesman for his office.
After the vote was pulled, Duncan took to Facebook and said GOP leadership had several lessons to learn.
“The first lesson is for House leadership going forward. When drafting legislation, you gather consensus. You don’t leave members of the Republican Conference in the dark. Everything we do, we do as a team. People will be quick to blame the House Freedom Caucus, but I’d point out that Paul Ryan never included the Freedom Caucus when drafting this bill,” Duncan wrote on Facebook on March 24.
“From the beginning, this bill was worked backwards,” he wrote. “Good bills should be worked forwards. I also hope that the Trump administration will engage more on the front end as well. I understand that, while House leaders were crafting this bill, the Trump administration was still setting up shop.”