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Leadership blaming Freedom Caucus for dodgy whip count

AP file photo

House Republican leaders are furious at the Freedom Caucus, and a number of senior staff believe the conservative group lied about its vote numbers earlier today. The Freedom Caucus aggressively denies that.

The inside story: Early this afternoon Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows told White House chief of staff Reince Priebus there were 18 hard "no" votes in the Freedom Caucus.

What happened next: Budget Director Mick Mulvaney passed on that information to House leaders. The whip team believed - given the public reporting that the Freedom Caucus contains about 40 members - that more than half of the group would support the bill or could be persuaded to do so. But when they started making calls they quickly discovered the support was much weaker than that.

A source familiar with the interactions tells Axios: "Mick called and said you are getting more than half. So we took our list of undecideds, lean no and no and started calling through. The undecideds had moved no. The noes stayed no. It was not half."

The prevailing assumption among leadership — according to four sources involved — is that the Freedom Caucus lied and negotiated in bad faith.

"The number they told us was totally false," said a senior House aide.

Asked about this, a Freedom Caucus source said the charge from leadership was "a bad attempt to blame us and make us look like dishonest brokers." The source said that the Freedom Caucus always had a majority of members against the bill.

"18 would mean only 4 short of killing the bill. So I think it's semi irrelevant what portion of our caucus that was," the source added.

Why this matters: Relations between House leadership and the Freedom Caucus are heading in the ugly direction of the Boehner era. It's not going to be pretty negotiating the other major items of Trump's agenda.