WASHINGTON ― Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole is getting just a little bit tired of some of the more fervid members of his party’s tea party wing, and argued Wednesday that it’s about time for them to stop opposing everything and show they can actually govern.
Those members, many of whom are now in the House Freedom Caucus, are on the verge of sinking President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Such a defeat could deal a crippling blow to Trump and Ryan’s broader agenda, and many Republicans fear failure could cost them their control of Congress in 2018.
Considering all that, Cole, a former professor and an influential old-school member of the party, argued that the Freedom Caucus should start thinking a little more about the bigger picture instead of insisting on a bill that meets every hard-line purity test.
“This idea that it’s not conservative enough when well over 200 members are probably in favor of it — at some point you have to ask, are you going be part of a party, or does everybody have to do what 25 or 30 people think?” Cole said.
The White House and GOP leaders have been leaning on their right-flank members for days now, but they don’t appear to be budging, even though the new version of the bill that is scheduled for a vote Thursday has taken some of their suggestions.
“This bill has moved in their direction, and that’s fine. Those are improvements,” Cole said. “I think you take pride in that, and claim the victory and keep working on things.”
Cole and GOP leaders think the thing to do is pass what the House has crafted, and send it to the Senate for more changes. They’d have a chance to vote on it again in the House, and the process would at least keep moving.
But standing about 20 feet away from Cole as he chatted with reporters just off the House floor was Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.).
Like other members of the Freedom Caucus, DesJarlais wasn’t changing his mind.
“I just know that the group I’ve been meeting with, more than my family lately, seems to be arm in arm,” DesJarlais said. “I would be surprised if there were enough defections to not have the votes for the bill not to succeed.”
His idea was to delay so the House GOP could write a measure more to their liking, but Cole didn’t see that happening, either. He said the time to vote is now.
“I think people need to go on the board and let people know where they’re at,” Cole said. “Not everybody has taken a firm commitment here one way or the other. There are still people who are wavering. Sooner or later you have to know what their inclination is. I think a vote is the easiest way to do that.”
The big problem for the ultra-conservatives is that they are stuck acting as if the GOP is still in the minority, or still trying to battle former President Barack Obama.
“It’s a tremendous opposition party. We’re now going to find out whether it’s a governing party,” Cole said. “We could stop anything President Obama wanted to do, and quite often did. But now you have to actually move something through the process.”