White House bowling party looks to spare party split

White House bowling party looks to spare party split
Posted at 5:59 PM, Mar 08, 2017

President Donald Trump is inviting House Republicans skeptical of the Obamacare replacement plan to the White House to try and strike a deal over a few frames at the White House bowling alley.


Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans who have emerged as perhaps the biggest obstacle for House Republican leaders and the Trump administration to winning the health care repeal, were invited, a White House official confirmed.

The alley isn't exactly stunning or spacious, but it is the latest example of Trump applying some personal charm and marshaling the symbolic power of the White House.

The less-than-enthusiastic reception to the invitation on the Hill shows the struggles the Trump administration is facing as they try to find enough Republican support to pass an Obamacare replacement bill that some Republicans have dubbed "Obamacare 2.0."

"Invitations to the White House are not terribly uncommon, but if it gives us an opportunity to hear some reasonable input, then I'm excited to hear it," said Rep. Trent Franks, one of the House Freedom Caucus members invited to the White House. "I think communication is a good thing, it doesn't even have to be charming, you know, if that's not conducive to effective communication."

Franks, an Arizona congressman who has criticized the health care bill as an expansion of welfare anathema to conservatives, said he was invited to go bowling with President Barack Obama at the White House eight years ago.

"Shortly after he was elected, Barack Obama invited me to go bowling, as well and come also to watch the Super Bowl -- my team in my district was playing in the Super Bowl, they lost and it was sad," Franks said. (The Arizona Cardinals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23, in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.)

Trump has dispatched his top lieutenants to the Capitol and has called in allies -- and skeptical Republicans -- and launching a lobbying blitz that has even exposed some rifts between the White House and House and Senate Republican leaders, according to one White House official.

Congressional "leadership put the entire burden on the President's shoulders," one senior administration official said, adding that he'll need to win over conservative senators like Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz as well.

Trump and First lady Melania Trump are hosting Cruz and his wife, Heidi Cruz, for dinner at the White House Wednesday evening -- almost one year after Trump threatened to "spill the beans" on Heidi Cruz and later accused Cruz's father of conspiring to kill John F. Kennedy.

Vice President Mike Pence hosted a handful of lawmakers at his office in the Capitol Tuesday, including Freedom Caucus member Rep. David Brat, the chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Rep. Mark Walker, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, another conservative stalwart.

And Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney was sent back to the Hill Tuesday evening to meet with leaders of the Republican Study Committee and the House Freedom Caucus.

"We never got to a place where it was adamant, we realized that in that meeting in about an hour that another one was needed," Walker, a North Carolina Republican, told CNN after the meeting.

Rep. David Schweikert, an Arizona Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus, said Mulvaney promised him he would listen to his many ideas for restructuring how the US manages debt.

But other lawmakers are skeptical of the White House's outreach, saying they're expecting more arm-twisting and less negotiating from the new administration. The Mulvaney visit appeared to be more of a courtesy before Republican leaders start forcing members in line, said one member of the Republican Study Committee who was in Tuesday night's meeting.

Trump might want to consider inviting some the bill's allies in Congress in order to avoid incident.

When asked if he'd been invited to the White House bowling alley, Rep. Kevin Brady, who's been chairing the marathon Obamacare markup all day at the Ways and Means Committee, responded, "No, but I wish!"