President Donald Trump lobbied GOP senators behind closed doors Tuesday to support a tax overhaul bill that is key to his agenda, but the chamber’s leading Republican indicated afterward he is still searching for the votes to pass it.
Trump returned to Capitol Hill for the third time in four weeks to sell Republican members on the House and Senate versions of GOP tax plan. But this time, he also went to try and wrangle the remaining holdouts to secure the 50 votes needed to pass the bill later this week. (Vice President Mike Pence could cast the 51st and decisive vote.)
Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters following the meeting that he believes Trump and GOP leaders will ultimately pass the first major tax legislation in three decades. Republicans moved a step closer shortly after their lunch with Trump when the Budget Committee moved the reconciliation tax measure to the floor on a party-line, 12-11 vote.
Before departing for a meeting with the president and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., at the White House — a meeting that once also included Democratic leaders — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated he was still looking for 50 Republicans who support the tax bill.
Once that 50th vote is locked down, he said he would bring up the measure, which is key to, in Trump’s own words, unlocking much of his domestic agenda like a massive infrastructure bill and his promised faster economic growth.
Watch: Schumer Talks About Skipping White House Meeting on Senate Floor
Flanked by McConnell and Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming, the president gave a wave to journalists penned off under enhanced security in the Ohio Clock Corridor as he headed into the lunch meeting.
The last time Trump visited Capitol Hill, he presided over what many members described as a House GOP “pep rally.” Leaders in that chamber were certain the votes were secured to pass their version of a tax bill. The measure was approved a few hours after Trump left, and GOP members were still giddy about his performance after casting their votes.
This time, however, was different.
Trump and McConnell still have work to do to secure the requisite 50 votes, with at least six Republican senators expressing concerns about the bill as it’s currently constructed. They can only lose two.
Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana are concerned that it could harm small businesses. Two retiring senators and leading Trump critics, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona, are worried it would blow a hole in the deficit. And Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have expressed leeriness about the bill’s provision to nix the 2010 health law’s individual insurance mandate. Then there’s Sen. John McCain of Arizona: He has merely praised the process, but is withholding comment on how he will vote.
Johnson, who earlier said he was a “no” and would vote against the measure as currently written, did not tip his hand when heading into the Budget Committee vote, but he voted for it anyway.
Corker, another Budget Committee possible holdout, voted for it after receiving assurances there would be inserted a trigger mechanism that could curtail tax cuts in the event economic growth does not materialize to the tune assumed by the Senate GOP bill.
“People are working with us,” the Tennessee Republican said. “But again, especially since we’re skipping the step of having any official scoring on this bill, we’re just going straight to the floor, this is a way to resolve that.”
“All of us who are working on this understand that certainty that’s necessary for business investment,” Corker said on CNBC. “For the next two or three years, we’re going to generate substantial deficits, substantial deficits more than what would have taken place under current policy.”
Corker said it is during those deficit-boosting years that businesses would be expected to make big investments.
“And then you look at the years four, five and six. That’s when the growth is to take place, but … the trigger would give enough time for that to have taken place,” Corker said.
During the lunch with Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz suggested to the GOP conference that they consider a second trigger that would cut taxes further if economic growth is higher than anticipated, according to Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. Trump neither endorsed nor dismissed the idea, he said.
After the president had been inside the large banquet room, a reporter heard applause coming from inside.
Trump’s latest trip to the Capitol came against the backdrop of the House and Senate’s top Democrats calling his bluff by backing out of a 3 p.m. White House meeting on a year-end spending deal.
The president tweeted earlier in the day that differences on immigration policy left him unable to foresee a bipartisan spending deal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., reacted hours later by announcing they would skip the afternoon session and instead negotiate directly with House and Senate GOP leaders.
As he headed to the luncheon meeting with Trump, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said any partial government shutdown would not be Republicans fault even though the party controls the House, the Senate and the White House.
“We won’t have a government shutdown unless the Democrats choose to have a shutdown,” Shelby said.
When asked if he thought Congressional leaders should negotiate among themselves, Shelby said: “Obviously they could do it, but the president [of] the United States is generally involved in serious negotiations.”
During his press conference following Democrats’ policy lunch, Schumer fired back. “The president said I don’t see a deal three hours before a meeting, before we had anything to say,” Schumer said. “This is about the president not being serious.”
Niels Lesniewski, Lindsey McPherson, Jennifer Shutt and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.