A co-chairman of the Tuesday Group resigned his position leading the caucus of centrist House Republicans on Tuesday, citing raw feelings over his role in brokering a compromise that set up passage of the GOP health-care overhaul this month.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) negotiated for weeks with the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and other parties inside the House GOP, crafting an amendment that persuaded enough conservatives and moderates to support the teetering American Health Care Act.
The bill passed the House on May 4 by a vote of 217 to 213, and the Senate is now considering how to proceed with the legislation. But three weeks after the vote, some Tuesday Group members remain displeased that MacArthur played a key role in moving it forward.
MacArthur, a former insurance executive, announced his resignation Tuesday at a luncheon meeting of the group, telling colleagues that some members “have different objectives and a different sense of governing than I do,” according to prepared remarks his office shared with reporters.
“You cannot lead people where they don’t want to go,” MacArthur said in an interview shortly afterward. “I just didn’t see this being resolved. What I foresaw was, the next time I want to negotiate with the Freedom Caucus on an issue or with any other group here, it was going to rankle some people, and I’m not looking to be a divisive figure.”
MacArthur said he would remain a member of the group. Two co-chairmen remain, Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Politico first reported MacArthur’s resignation Tuesday.
MacArthur’s decision to step down reflects ongoing ideological tensions inside the House GOP over how best to govern — a newly pressing question since January, with Republicans holding the White House and total control of Congress for the first time since 2006.
Some centrist members have resisted legislative initiatives they view as too nakedly ideological and potentially harmful to their constituencies. But more than that, they have sought to resist the influence of the far right — particularly the Freedom Caucus, a group that moderates have sought to marginalize.
MacArthur negotiated directly with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, on a compromise amendment that would allow states to opt out of certain federal insurance mandates — a deal that ultimately unlocked dozens of GOP votes.
Dent voted against the health-care bill and declined to comment Tuesday on whether MacArthur stepped out of bounds, or on his resignation: “Tom’s a friend and a colleague. He’s a member of the Tuesday Group, and that was his decision. It was his decision. I just accept it. Take it at that. It is what it is.” Stefanik voted in favor of the bill.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a Tuesday Group member who supported the health bill, said the crux of the issue was that MacArthur was portrayed as negotiating on behalf of the Tuesday Group when he had not been formally authorized to do so. “When you chair a group, you’ve got to make sure that you’re always recognizing that your voice carries more than your own individual weight,” Reed said. “You’ve got to be very diligent to make sure that when you speak, you recognize you’re carrying others with you. And if you want to speak individually, you really have to always stress that you’re just speaking as one.”
MacArthur said Tuesday that he made clear to his negotiating partners that he was acting on his own behalf, not the larger group’s. He said he felt no direct pressure to resign and had no regrets over the role that he played in paving the way for the health-care bill’s passage.
“I think it was important for our country,” he said. “We have to fix health care, or it’s going to implode and hurt millions of people. So I can’t apologize to people that are mad at me for doing it, but at the same time I respect that if I’m going to keep causing that sort of angst for them, that’s not why I joined the Tuesday Group, either.”
But MacArthur had sharp words for some of his colleagues who, he said, are not interested in having the group play a central role in negotiating major legislation.
“There are people who don’t want it to act as a group,” he said. “They want it to be a place to share information, to be a lunch club, as one described it. I don’t want to be the chairman of a lunch club. I ran because I think the group could have a lot more influence in a positive way, and I think in the health-care debate actually they had some success at that, but there are members that are bristling at that.”
He added: “There are people that are unhappy with me that I negotiated with the Freedom Caucus. The reality is, I would do that again. I probably will do it again. I believe governing means you pull everyone together and you work out solutions.”