CNN anchor Chris Cuomo said Tuesday morning that newly leaked audio of House Speaker Paul Ryan could damage congressional Republicans’ ability to pass a health care bill “more than anything that’s happened thus far.”
On the recording from a private conference call in October, Ryan is heard telling House Republicans that he couldn’t defend then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump at that moment or “in the future.” His comments came amid a scandal over the now-president bragging on tape about groping women.
The never-before-heard recording didn’t come to light through a liberal or mainstream news site. Rather, the right-wing, nationalist Breitbart News published it Monday night.
That Breitbart would drop this 5-month-old recording now ― as Ryan and the Trump administration make their case for a health care bill to repeal and “replace” Obamacare ― may appear surprising. After all, the site vigorously supported Trump’s candidacy and its former chairman, Steve Bannon, is chief strategist in the White House.
But Breitbart News emerged as a force in Washington through its sustained attacks on Republican establishment. Boisterous commenters joined in to label politicians deemed insufficiently conservative as RINOs ― Republicans In Name Only. The site boosted Trump during the 2016 election as an alternative to the Washington establishment, and has long characterized Ryan as emblematic of conventional GOP politics.
Breitbart News has noticeably blamed Ryan for any problems with the Republican bill to replace Obamacare, known as the American Health Care Act. The site has portrayed the bill as part of an effort by the speaker to mislead the president into supporting legislation that betrays conservative principles.
Still, Breitbart’s opposition to the health care bill ― which it has called “Obamacare Lite” and “Obamacare 2.0” ― runs the risk of antagonizing Trump, who publicly supports the bill, and administration officials arguing on its behalf.
After Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Sunday that “nobody will be worse off financially” under the Republicans’ plan, Breitbart News mocked the claim on Twitter and questioned whether it would go down as the “lie of the year.” A Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation report published Monday suggests that as many as 24 million people could lose health insurance as a result of the GOP bill.
Trump is a devoted Breitbart reader, as Bannon told The Huffington Post last summer, and some suspect he made an unsubstantiated claim about former President Barack Obama “wiretapping” his building after reading an article on the site.
So it’s likely that the president has seen the site’s blaring, negative headlines about the Republican health care bill. He also may have seen Breitbart’s broadsides amplified on major TV networks, as CNN and MSNBC played the Ryan recording more than a dozen times on Tuesday.
However, Boyle reportedly told colleagues last week that “there are no sacred cows in war” ― meaning the site would even attack Republicans if they strayed from Breitbart’s brand of populist, nationalist conservatism. He has interviewed several Republicans who are concerned with or opposed to the health care bill, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“I don’t think it makes any sense, and I think [Ryan]’s trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the president,” Paul told Boyle.
“Everybody, I think, knows that Paul Ryan does not have President Trump’s best interests at heart, right?” Boyle said Monday morning on Breitbart News’ Sirius radio show. “He tried to undermine him repeatedly during the course of 2016, even after he was the Republican nominee for president. Paul Ryan did nothing to help President Trump win on November the 8th. Nothing. Nothing. And since then has been repeatedly trying to co-opt and destroy the Trump agenda.”
That night, Boyle dropped the recording of Ryan saying he wouldn’t publicly defend Trump ― even as he was the Republican nominee. In the article, Boyle disclosed that Breitbart News was provided “a portion” of the Ryan conference call that included the speaker’s remarks. He did not mention when Breitbart News obtained the recording.
But Axios’ Mike Allen reported Tuesday that Breitbart’s “bomb” was one that “Ryan opponents had been husbanding for months, waiting to detonate at a time of maximum vulnerability.”
A Breitbart spokesman declined to make Boyle or editor-in-chief Alexander Marlow available for interviews.
There remains speculation whether Bannon, who was a fierce critic of the Republican establishment while leading Breitbart, is behind the site’s opposition to the bill or has at least sanctioned it (even while advising a president who publicly supports it).
Bannon recently denied any involvement in Boyle’s “absurd” story about chief of staff Reince Priebus’s job being in jeopardy. Bannon and Priebus, who are viewed as leading rival centers of power, have tried convincing people outside the White House that they get along.
Bannon did not respond to requests for comment on Breitbart’s coverage.
It remains to be seen what, if any, effect Breitbart’s crusade has on Republican support for the bill. But the site reported Tuesday that Trump has scheduled a call with Ryan “as healthcare bill hangs in balance.”