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Pro-Trump group pulls ad against fellow GOP senator

The pro-Trump group America First Policies pulled critical television advertisements of a fellow Republican after facing public and private backlash on Tuesday evening.

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Elizabeth LandersJim Acosta
Dana Bash (CNN)

The pro-Trump group America First Policies pulled critical television advertisements of a fellow Republican after facing public and private backlash on Tuesday evening.

The political group ran anti-Heller ads for fewer than 12 hours before they were pulled from the airwaves in Nevada.

Erin Montgomery, a spokesperson for the group, said, "America First Policies is pleased to learn that Senator Dean Heller has decided to come back to the table to negotiate with his colleagues on the Senate bill. We have pulled the ads we released earlier today in Nevada, and we remain hopeful that Senator Heller and his colleagues can agree on what the American people already know: that repealing and replacing Obamacare must happen for America to move forward and be great again."

The advertisements -- and internal fighting among the Republican party -- raised eyebrows, especially as the group continued to standby their decision to air the ads through midday Tuesday.

McConnell called White House chief of staff Reince Priebus this weekend and expressed his displeasure about America First going after Heller, a source tells CNN.

The New York Times first reported about this call.

McConnell called Priebus because he thought it was a stupid move that set the cause back significantly, the source said.

Another GOP source with knowledge of Heller's position pushed back on the statement from America First, calling it "total BS."

"He was never going to be swayed by ads," the source said, adding "Conservatives held their ground and there is power in numbers."

Another Republican source close to the health care process told CNN that the Heller ad was a key error.

"That was not the right thing to do," the source said, adding the move alienated senators. "You can do that to a House member. You cannot do that to a senator," the source added.

A person involved in the group told CNN that it was going to invest $1.3 million on television, radio, and digital advertisements against the Nevada senator, though an FCC filing shows just a $33,000 buy so far on KOLO-TV in Reno. The purchase shows 68 televisions spots for three days, starting Tuesday.

As the midterm elections approach in 2018, Heller is up for re-election -- in a state that Hillary Clinton won during the 2016 presidential election. Heller is the fifth senator to publicly oppose the Senate's version of the health care bill as written.

"It's simply not the answer," the Nevada Republican said last Friday at a news conference alongside Gov. Brian Sandoval in Las Vegas. "And I'm announcing today that in this form, I simply will not support it."

On Monday the group tweeted: "We won't hold back. Americans need to know @SenDeanHeller is blocking the #RepealAndReplace of FAILING Obamacare!"

During the White House briefing Monday, press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the unusual move to attack a member of its own party. He said he had not seen the advertisements, but that the President has contacted Republican senators who oppose the bill.

Even more surprisingly, Heller broached the subject of the ad directly with the President, according to a source familiar with the White House meeting Tuesday.

"I would just suggest that we want to do what we can from a White House perspective to continue to reach out and work with them," Spicer said.

America First Policies also plans to run cable and digital ads after Democratic senators in West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota, Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, and Montana, a spokeswoman for the group said Monday.

Trump won all but one -- Virginia -- of the eight states where ads will run. The ad will run between June 27 and June 29.

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