Idaho U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador has always been a bit of troublemaker. His involvement in the defeat of the GOP health care plan last week drew the fire of Pres. Trump who singled him out by name.
In the U.S. House of Representatives and as a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Labrador has carved out a reputation as a bit of a bomb thrower. In 2014, he called President Obama the “worst President that we have had” and in 2016 labeled former GOP House Speaker John Boehner “the worst speaker of the House in history.”
This tendency to clash has never hurt Labrador here in Idaho. He has been secure in Idaho’s First Congressional District since first elected in 2010 over then-Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick. Since that first run he has never gotten less than 78.6% in a primary election and 63% in a general election.
For the past few years, Labrador and his Freedom Caucus colleagues have been a thorn in the side of Republican leadership, often unwilling to give their votes unless leaders give heed to their hard right agenda.
So, in some ways, it was unsurprising that most Freedom Caucus members, including Labrador, had considerable misgivings with the recent healthcare plan put forth by GOP House leadership. That plan proposed to replace the Obamacare health insurance mandate with a broad tax credit for health insurance purchase. Overall, the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would reduce health coverage for an estimated 24 million Americans.
This measure was extremely unpopular as one national poll showed it was backed by only 17% of respondents. The House Freedom Caucus was a leading opponent as were many more moderate GOP members. A couple of weeks ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the measure when it looked like it would lose on the House floor.
Last week, Pres. Trump and Labrador got into a rather public fight over who was to blame.
Trump started the clash by first blaming the Freedom Caucus for the loss in a tweet stating the Freedom Caucus “will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He then followed up with this threat to defeat Freedom Caucus members: “We must fight them [the Freedom Caucus] , & Dems, in 2018!”
Last Thursday, Trump singled out on Twitter Labrador and two other Freedom Caucus members: “If @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform”.
Could Trump go after Labrador in Idaho? According to a recent Idaho Politics Weekly survey, Idahoans approve of the job Trump is doing by a margin of 59% to 36%. That is much stronger than his sagging ratings nationally. Trump’s relatively stronger position in Idaho might induce the president to try to recruit an opponent to Labrador to show the consequence of blocking his agenda.
Trump’s actual ability to defeat Labrador may be limited. Conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru who writes for National Review and Bloomberg points out last week that Trump allies last year tried to take on both Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin and Senator Marco Rubio in Florida. Both lost badly.
More interesting, Labrador is widely reported to be considering a run for governor of Idaho in 2018. If Labrador does jump into that race, would Trump try to torpedo him? Or, would he be pleased with the fact that Labrador would no longer be in the U.S. House and ignore his run?
Labrador last week tried to dampen things down. "Freedom Caucus stood with u when others ran ... Remember who your real friends are. We're trying to help u succeed."
Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy with considerable real estate experience. He was previously a political consultant and ran a congressional office in Washington, D.C.