- President Donald Trump joined the weekly Senate Republican policy lunch for the first time as president.
- He called on Republicans to pass a major tax reform package.
- While Trump did not lay out many specifics, he encouraged senators to sell the tax plan with effective messaging.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump made a rare appearance at Tuesday’s Senate Republican policy lunch in an effort to galvanize lawmakers to pass a major tax reform package, signalling a more hands on approach than was exhibited during previous failures to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Trump entered the lunch to a swarm of press and even one protester who managed to blend in with the credentialed journalists and staff. Inside the closed door meeting, Trump hammered in the need to pass the first tax code overhaul in more than three decades.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller told Business Insider that Trump’s message was “basically overall strategy” about the coming weeks and months ahead, noting the urgency for tax reform as 2017 comes to an end. However, Heller said much of meeting was spent on broad outlines and motivating members, as opposed to concrete policy plans.
“Really not a lot of specifics or anything, but some positive things we could kind of agree on,” Heller said. “The whole idea here is to get people back to work, get more dollars to the average paycheck and that means growing the economy. I think he did a good job of laying out his case for that today — and it was in very broad terms.”
Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy insisted that the bulk of the meeting was about effective messaging on the issue of taxes and economics.
“We talked about the importance of not just helping the middle class exclusively when you have 10% of American taxpayers paying 70% of the taxes,” Kennedy said. “You can’t do meaningful tax reform without impacting them too. But we talked about the importance of starting with the middle class.”
Kennedy also said that Trump emphasised the need to articulate that cutting taxes for businesses benefits employees and not just business owners, saying claims to the contrary are “just bone-deep, down to the marrow stupid.”
One of the few policy specifics on tax reform Trump got into, according to Kennedy, was that the president regretted Republicans were not able to settle on a 15% corporate income tax rate. Republicans ultimately settled on a 20% rate for corporations in the framework released in September.
Republicans on Capitol Hill seem cautiously optimistic that Trump will be more involved this time around than he was during healthcare reform efforts, using the power of the White House pulpit to sell the public on a new way of collecting taxes.
Over the summer, Trump had seemed unhappy with the press coverage of healthcare reform — after reports that he was not coordinating with senators on healthcare, who instead preferred to talk shop with Vice President Mike Pence, the president railed against the press and disputed such claims.
“Some of the Fake News Media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in healthcare,” Trump wrote on Twitter in June. “Wrong, I know the subject well & want victory for U.S.”
Trump also came under fire during the Obamacare repeal debacle when called the health care bill “mean” and said he wanted “to see a bill with heart.”
The “mean” comment in particular became a rallying cry for Democrats, who are preparing to use the comment in ads against Republicans who are running in the 2018 midterms elections.
Trump also contradicted his own party’s leadership on healthcare, over-promised, and distracted from his own agenda. Analysts and frustrated members of his own party said he helped increase the possibility that the law he railed against for so long stays in place — and so far, it has.
But tax reform has been different. White House staff have been in close coordination with Congress, as has Trump himself. The administration’s legislative liaisons, such as Marc Short and Paul Teller, have been regularly engaging lawmakers.
But while Trump’s meeting with senators on Tuesday served to calm nerves, the GOP still faces an uphill battle passing tax reform with such a slim majority in the Senate.
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