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Congressman: No, Conservatives Didn't Bring Down AHCA

The presumption upon which much analysis and recrimination has been built since Friday is that the American Health Care Act lacked support due to the intransigence of the House Freedom Caucus. Conservatives, standing their ground in allegiance to principle, brought down the AHCA we have been told. Indeed, that notion has been seized upon by the Trump White House to justify opening negotiations with the Democrats. One problem: it's not true.

Joining me on "Closing Argument," a local radio show broadcast on Twin Cities News Talk, Congressman Tom Emmer told listeners Tuesday night that moderates -- not conservatives -- brought down the AHCA. He should know. Emmer serves as a member of the deputy whip team for congressional Republicans. As such, he personally spoke to members and had access to the actual whip count, something which no reporter or commentator has seen.

Tom Emmer:

... I get up and I see a headline that says something like... "Epic Failure Caused by the Conservative Freedom Caucus..."

[The article] went on to talk about how the Freedom Caucus brought this bill down, and they go back in history and try to suggest that [the Freedom Caucus is] the reason that [former Speaker John] Boehner resigned.

... actually, it was the moderates ultimately that brought the bill down. There were probably ten to fifteen members of the Freedom Caucus that were still a no. Keep in mind that [the Freedom Caucus] reported their [total] numbers as close to forty. So you had the vast majority of the Freedom Caucus that was already a yes. And then you had probably the same number, ten to fifteen, of the Tuesday group -- which are called the moderates. They were also a no. So, really, I think we were within a handful of votes. But it was pretty evenly split between the most conservative side of our caucus and the most liberal side of our caucus. And it just wasn't being reported that way.

Emmer later added:

I won't give you names, because it's not fair. I'm not going to share private stuff. But I absolutely can tell you that there were two-thirds to three-quarters of the Freedom Caucus [who] were yes on this bill.

Now, the reason I think it's not getting reported this way is -- one -- I think it's intentional. It always has been this way. You've got to marginalize the conservatives as much as possible. I think this is done both by liberals on the Left as much as liberals on the Right, Walter. The more you can marginalize this group, the less influence they can have, right?...

... I don't give the mainstream media this much credit, because I think they're both ignorant and lazy. I don't know where they get this information that they've reported as if they've got an inside track. I showed [a group of Republican activists] Saturday morning... I pulled the list out of my pocket. I had a whip list in my pocket, and I know the people that I talked to directly, and I can guarantee you that the reporters in the mainstream media did not have the same conversations that I did.

But I truly believe they have -- one -- they want to marginalize the ultra conservatives. And two -- what they're doing is, they rationalize the fact that some of these moderates were a yes until the conservatives started getting things taken out of the bill, the last of which -- I told you -- was the Obama-titled "essential health benefits."

Those are mandated coverages imposed on insurance companies by Obamacare, which the AHCA initially maintained. Emmer contends that the removal of so-called essential health benefits from the AHCA lost at least as much support from moderates as it gained from conservatives. Therefore, the dominant media narrative that intransigent conservatives killed the bill is incorrect.

That narrative has been echoed by the White House and leveraged to justify negotiations with Democrats. Emmer warns conservatives to be wary.

They should be very concerned. First off, Walter, I would say to anybody that's listening; did you really think that Donald Trump was conservative when he ran for president? I mean, I don't think that's why he was elected. He said the right things. I think he was elected, not because he was loved, but because people across this country are looking for the biggest baddest whoever that will grab these legislators in the swamp by the ears and start shaking them around so that they get something done.

He came here to get something done. And he's told us, those of us that consider ourselves conservatives, "I'm willing to work with ya. I'm willing to pass your entire agenda. But you gotta work with me." And his threat last week, when he said, "I'm all done negotiating.... I've done everything I can do. We're done now.... Look if you're not willing to work with me, I'm going across the aisle and I'm going to start working with Democrats and, by the way, you're not going to like what we do."

So, I guess what I say to Republican voters is, you knew what we were getting [in Donald Trump]. I knew what we were getting. But this is our chance... he's telling you that, if you don't start working with him to get the things that we want, then he's got no choice because he's made these promises and he's going to keep them, even if he doesn't honor it the way you or I would want it done.

We bought it. We own it. That's the bottom line, according to Emmer. You're not going to get Trump to value conservatism over "getting it done," no matter how misguided the thing ultimately done is.