At 9 pm on Saturday, Fox News commentator Jeanine Pirro called for House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down from his leadership position after failing to pass a health care bill this week, on her show Justice.
Here’s the kicker: Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump told the nation to tune in and watch her say it.
The unusual timing sent the internet spinning: Was Trump, an avid Fox News consumer, sending political messages through the network?
Trump’s administration and Ryan’s staff say no — it was just a coincidence, and Trump tweeted it because "he loves Judge Jeanine." Meanwhile, prominent pro-Trump voices — such as those at Breitbart — have been panning Ryan for the failed bill since it was introduced three weeks ago.
Whether pure coincidence, which it might very well be, or an unusual political move on Trump’s part, the president’s past Twitter antics have allowed for the online conspiracy theories to run rampant. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time he’s used Twitter to go after Ryan.
The tweet and the show
At 10:41 am Saturday, Trump suggested some nighttime entertainment for his social media followers:
Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2017
Eleven hours later, Pirro — Judge Jeanine — offered up the opinion that “Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the house.”
“The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace Obamacare, the one that he had seven years to work on, the one he had under lock and key in the basement of Congress, the one that had to be pulled to prevent the embarrassment of not having enough votes to pass,” Pirro said. “But this bill didn’t just fail; it failed when Republicans had the Senate, the House, and the White House. The timing? It failed in the first 70 days of Donald Trump’s administration.”
She went on to make sure her viewers knew Trump was in no way to blame for the failed legislation:
“I want to be clear, this is not on President Trump. No one expected a businessman to completely understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington and its legislative process. How would he know which individuals upon which he would be able to rely? Many of them friends and establishment colleagues of Speaker Ryan.”
Pirro added on air that she had “certainly not spoken with the president about any of this” — which makes the president’s tweet teasing the segment particularly suspect. Trump’s administration maintains it was just a coincidence, and Ryan’s spokesperson AshLee Strong said the speaker and the president talked for an hour Saturday about next steps.
“Their relationship is stronger than ever right now,” Strong told Vox in an email. On Sunday, Strong reiterated that “the two spoke again” and “the president was clear his tweet had nothing to do with the speaker.”
Axios’s Jonathan Swan pointed out that Pirro’s show also featured a promotional banner that "TRUMP WIRETAP CLAIMS STUNNING NEW DETAILS,” which could be a possible explanation for Trump’s tweet.
Here’s Pirro’s opening statement in full:
"Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the house.The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his healthcare bill." #openingstatement pic.twitter.com/75WbI4mcYX— Jeanine Pirro (@JudgeJeanine) March 26, 2017
The blame game on health care is starting
After Ryan pulled the American Health Care Act from the House floor minutes before it was scheduled for a vote Friday at Trump’s request, knowing that it did not have enough votes among Republicans to pass, the biggest question was who was to blame.
Was it weak House leadership on Ryan’s part? The House’s ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, which moved the bill to the right and still refused to vote for it? Did Trump’s last-minute negotiating tactics backfire?
AHCA’s demise was a major legislative setback early in Trump’s administration. The failure to repeal Obamacare has made House Republicans question whether their party can reach consensus on anything. But so far on Capitol Hill, the blame has been on the ideological divide between the party’s most conservative and moderate factions — and neither group has been willing to throw Ryan or Trump under the bus.
In the White House, it wouldn’t be particularly surprising for Ryan to get the blame. He’s far from beloved by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose former employer Breitbart News has been actively putting Ryan at fault for the bill’s shortcomings. Earlier on Friday, before the fate of the health care plan was clear, Breitbart ran a story that said Bannon thought the bill was a huge giveaway to the insurance industry.
But all this is unofficial. So far, Trump’s public statements about Ryan have been polite. Earlier on Friday, Trump told reporters that Ryan should remain speaker if the health bill failed in a vote, preempting the news.
After the vote was canceled, Trump said Ryan had worked very hard.