Buoyed by a pair of Thursday incremental victories in his tax overhaul push, President Donald Trump is arguing separate House and Senate bills would be stronger if Democrats would play ball.
The president used several Thursday evening and Friday morning tweets to celebrate House passage of a GOP-crafted tax measure and a late-night Senate Finance Committee vote to send its version to the chamber floor.
He also lashed out at Sen. Al Franken, suggesting the Minnesota Democrat is guilty of more serious actions than sexual misconduct captured in a 2006 photograph and assaulted alleged by an accuser who come forward Thursday.
Not a single House or Senate Finance Committee Democrat cast a vote in favor of the tax bills on Thursday, and many have complained about being shut out of the chambers’ processes.
The GOP president, however, contends Democrats are not helping make the bills better because they didn’t, as he put it in a Friday tweet, “understood the power of lower taxes.” If they did, “we would be able to get many of their ideas into Bill!” Trump added.
If Democrats were not such obstructionists and understood the power of lower taxes, we would be able to get many of their ideas into Bill!
On Thursday night, Trump called the House passage a “Big win” but noted the bill passed 227-205 with only GOP members voting in favor of the measure. “Zero Dems, they want to raise taxes much higher, but not for our military!” he wrote, meaning Democrats want to raises federal revenues but not direct any of those dollars to the Pentagon’s budget.
But Trump’s Thursday night tweets were not limited to taxes. He also harshly criticized Franken after a Los Angeles morning radio news host accused the senator and former comedian of forcibly kissing and groping her in an open letter on her station’s website. (Franken called for an Ethics Committee investigation, as did a long list of his Senate colleagues, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.)
In one tweet, Trump called a photo of Franken in 2006 mimicking groping the woman during a USO tour “bad.” He then proceeded to suggest that Franken might have done even worse than the photo shows, writing: “Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?”
The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? .....
Trump, who also has been accused of sexual misconduct, also on Thursday night criticized Franken for being a hypocrite, writing of the embattled senator: “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”
.And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?
Trump’s tough words about Franken come as he has resisted weighing in on sexual misconduct allegations against Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore. His top spokeswoman says if those charges are true, Trump believes Moore will step down.
But Trump has repeated ignored shouted questions from reporters about the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, and that spokeswoman largely refused to discuss that matter in depth during the White House press briefing on Thursday, saying Trump believes it should be up to Alabamians to decide whether the charges against Moore are true. She could not explain how they might do that.
Big win today in the House for GOP Tax Cuts and Reform, 227-205. Zero Dems, they want to raise taxes much higher, but not for our military!
The White House press corps will have another chance — though how the room is set up could create logistical challenges — on Friday during Trump’s lone planned public appearance when he hosts college championship teams at the executive mansion.
— Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.
Many House Republicans planning to vote “yes” on their tax bill Thursday are doing so with the understanding the measure is far from perfect and hoping their concerns will be addressed later during House and Senate conference negotiations.
Sound familiar? It was the same strategy several members employed in voting for a bill in May to partially repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.
The increasingly elusive conference committee — the House and Senate have only formed one so far this Congress, on the defense authorization bill — is supposed to be the backstop for legislation moving through Congress.
But more often than not on major legislation, the Senate gets the last word, and the House is forced to accept the other chamber’s version.
House GOP leaders have promised their members that won’t be the case with the tax code rewrite.
“We’re going to go to a conference committee and we’re going to address all these issues,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Tuesday. “And we’re taking feedback from all of our members on an ongoing basis because, again House, then Senate, then conference committee and that’s the process we have in front of us.”
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Some members are skeptical about the chances for a conference committee based on past practice.
“There’s always skepticism,” Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat said. But the Virginia Republican added that Ryan has been clear on the need for a conference, particularly to address differences between the House and Senate on the state and local tax deduction. The Senate bill would fully repeal the tax break, which members acknowledge would be fatal to final passage in the House.
Other members wonder whether the conference will be able to produce some of the bigger changes they’re seeking, given the ambitious timeline. Republicans are aiming to send a finalized bill to the president’s desk by Christmas.
The House is expected to pass its bill Thursday in a vote that could be somewhat close, while the Senate is hoping to pass its legislation the week after Thanksgiving.
If all goes according to the GOP’s plan, that would leave just two more legislative weeks for the chambers to reconcile their differences in conference committee and pass whatever is agreed on, all in the middle of high-stakes negotiations over government funding.
“I do not think it will take long until we come back with that final version and move that to the president’s desk in December,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNBC on Tuesday.
Even if leaders follow through on their commitment to go to conference over the tax bill, there’s no guarantee that lawmakers who are still requesting changes will get what they want.
It has been difficult enough for House and Senate tax writers to strike a balance within their separate bills that they believe can pass, so they face a daunting task trying to agree on one version that can clear both chambers.
“There are so many issues, this is so complex. … This is one that I really think needs to go to conference,” said Florida GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who is voting for the House tax bill. “But there is never a guarantee that what comes out of conference can pass both chambers.”
A conference committee is like a high-stakes Jenga game. You remove or add one building block (provision) and the entire structure (bill) could crumble. The balance has to be just right to ensure any changes don’t result in lost votes or lost money.
Tax writers are working under strict budget reconciliation rules, under which the tax bill cannot add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. After that time period, the measure must be deficit-neutral to comply with the Senate’s Byrd rule.
The Senate on Tuesday night illustrated just how difficult that is to adhere to when it released changes to its bill designed to comply with the Byrd rule that would sunset the individual tax cuts in the bill after eight years.
House GOP members hadn’t really digested the Senate changes as of midday Wednesday. And the changes they’re seeking in conference would mostly cost money and make it harder for tax writers to comply with the Byrd rule.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Michigan Republican Mike Bishop, a Ways and Means member.
He noted that House Republicans know there will be a lot of work to do when the bill gets to conference and part of that involves compliance with the Senate rules. “That’s the hand that we’ve been dealt,” Bishop said.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said many members of his hard-line conservative group are voting “yes” Thursday with the caveat that at least some of their outstanding concerns need to be addressed before they’ll support final passage.
“We have enough votes to make sure it doesn’t pass on final passage if they’re not addressed,” the North Carolina Republican said.
The Freedom Caucus did not take an official position in support of the tax plan, but the conservative Republican Study Committee did.
RSC Chairman Mark Walker said the No. 1 thing his caucus will be pushing for in conference is repeal of the individual mandate, which is not in the House bill but was added to the Senate version.
“Other things that are still important to us is the phase out of the death tax, making sure there’s no delay in the business rate reduction as well,” the North Carolina Republican said, using a term for the estate tax popular with many conservatives.
Two items in the bills that will take the most work to reconcile are provisions addressing small-business tax relief — the House creates a special rate for pass-through entities, while the Senate offers a deduction — and preventing international tax avoidance.
On the latter, GOP Rep. Greg Walden said he has concerns some of the provisions affect companies like Intel and Nike, both of which do business in his eastern Oregon district. “There will be room for some adjustments as we go forward,” he said, explaining his “yes” vote.
New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur is also voting “yes” Thursday despite lingering concerns about the House plan to reduce the mortgage interest deduction for new homes to $500,000 of debt and to eliminate the deduction for second homes. Since the Senate doesn’t do either, he’s hopeful there will be an acceptable compromise reached in the conference committee.
“You have to know those things that are absolutely essential for you to vote ‘yes’ and those things you think will be improved,” MacArthur said. “This isn’t a blind hope in conference. The Senate kept mortgage interest deductibility at $1 million [of debt].”
Still, some Republicans, such as California Rep. Darrell Issa, aren’t willing to invest in hope and vote “yes” Thursday when they know there’s a chance they’ll have to vote “no” on final passage.
“The Senate bill is not acceptable. The House bill is not acceptable. So I can presume the combined bill will not be acceptable,” said Issa, among the most vulnerable House Republicans next year.
“Can I assume it will get worse? Yeah. … I’m not going to vote ‘yes’ on a bill that when it comes back may be just as bad and then I vote ‘no,’” he said.
It’s decision time on the ultimatum Republican leaders have been issuing to members all fall: Pass a tax overhaul or wave the House majority goodbye.
But some of the party’s most vulnerable members, many from high-tax states in the Northeast, have come out against the House tax plan over its curtailing of deductions for state and local taxes and mortgage interest. Others are still undecided, afraid of how the measure will affect their districts.
“Voting for this hurts the majority,” Rep. Peter T. King said on the eve of Thursday’s vote. The New York Republican opposed the plan long before the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added him to its target list last week.
“We could end up losing all the members in the Northeast,” King said, acknowledging an incongruity between what leadership is saying about the policy and political strategy going into 2018 and what members from his region see in their districts.
“You get into a tough race, some things are beyond your control,” he said. “But this is basically an unforced error. We’re doing it to ourselves.”
Without a legislative victory on health care to tout in their districts, Republicans have been adamant that they need to pass something — anything — on taxes. And GOP strategists admit that those scare tactics have likely boosted the chances of the tax bill’s passage Thursday.
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But House races, as any campaign consultant will admit, are localized affairs. Many Northeastern Republicans survived in districts Hillary Clinton carried last fall, in large part by distancing themselves from the national GOP and localizing their races.
As many of the same members did on health care, some of these lawmakers are now distancing themselves from the national party on the tax vote. Even so, it’s likely the Republican tax plan will still be used against them.
New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance, who was also strongly against the GOP health care effort, plans to vote against the tax bill. A DCCC target next year, Lance sits in a district Clinton carried by 1 point.
“We are judged based upon how we vote,” he said Wednesday, dismissing any concerns about his own vulnerability.
Besides Lance, New York Rep. Dan Donovan also opposed the GOP health care plan and will vote against the tax overhaul. (New Jersey Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo fits into that category, too, but he recently announced he won’t seek re-election, making his district more competitive for Democrats.)
California Rep. Darrell Issa, who tops Roll Call’s list of the 10 most vulnerable incumbents, backed leadership on health care but is against the tax bill. New York Rep. John J. Faso, the third most vulnerable House incumbent, also backed leadership on health care, but he came out against the tax plan Wednesday evening.
Two additional New York Republicans have come out against the measure: Rep. Lee Zeldin and the National Republican Congressional Committee’s own head of recruitment, Rep. Elise Stefanik. The NRCC is touting the plan in digital videos.
At least four Democratic targets were undecided as of press time: New York Reps. John Katko, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (the 5th most vulnerable incumbent), New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen and Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan A. Costello. Katko and Costello voted against the earlier health care bill.
Donovan said the tax plan “kills the people” in his district. He’s facing a primary threat from former GOP Rep. Michael G. Grimm and a Democratic challenger the national party is excited about. Donovan emphasized the importance of members doing what’s best for their own districts.
“If this is harmful for your constituents and you’re still voting ‘yes,’ then yes, I would be worried about that person,” Donovan said. “If it’s good for the people back home and you’re voting ‘no,’ I’d be concerned about that as well.”
Democrats aren’t about to give these members a free pass.
The DCCC has signaled it will attack all Republicans for the tax vote, regardless of how they voted, just as it did after the House GOP’s health care vote earlier this year. It started running Facebook ads this week in 36 GOP districts, including against members who had already said they’d vote against it.
After the House GOP budget vote last month, Democratic recruits in New York and New Jersey tried to use the vote against Republican incumbents. Max Rose, an Army veteran challenging Donovan in New York’s 11th District, went after the incumbent for not working harder to “kill” the measure.
Blanket attacks don’t always work. Some moderate Republicans overcame Democratic attempts to tie them to candidate Donald Trump last year, arguing they were nothing like Trump and the real estate mogul wasn’t a Republican.
But Democrats aren’t using Trump so much these days; they’ve rediscovered Speaker Paul D. Ryan as their boogeyman. And it’ll be much harder for rank-and-file members to distance themselves from Ryan than from Trump.
On the eve of the tax vote, Donovan shrugged off threats of Democratic attacks.
“They’re going to attack us no matter what,” he said.
NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers is excited about the tax overhaul, but acknowledged some of his most vulnerable members still aren’t happy with it. Still, he scoffed at King’s suggestion that the tax plan could hurt the party’s chances of keeping the majority.
“We’ve got to try to do more for some of our colleagues who are in special circumstances, and we’re working with them,” the Ohio Republican said. “We didn’t write this on tablets in stone. It is written in ink and pencil, and it will be changed before it’s enacted.”