WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought to project unity Monday amid heightening tensions between the president and Senate Republicans that threaten to complicate the GOP's fall legislative agenda and midterm election strategy.
At a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden after a working lunch, Trump and McConnell tried to dismiss media reports of their troubled relationship and to demonstrate that they are on the same page when it comes to the effort to rewrite the nation's tax laws.
In front of a hastily assembled White House press corps that jostled one another on the lawn because there wasn't time to set up chairs, Trump began his remarks by saluting McConnell and, as he described it, their long-standing friendship.
"We're probably now closer than ever before," the president proclaimed as McConnell smiled at his side. "My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding."
Both men affirmed their goal of delivering a tax bill by December, but in response to a question, Trump said that the last major tax overhaul was adopted in 1986, midway through President Ronald Reagan's second term. "I've been here a little more than nine months," he said.
McConnell called completion of a tax bill in 2017 "the goal." But he pointed out that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Act were signed in the second year of former President Barack Obama's first term.
One element of the relationship between McConnell and Trump continued to loom over the two men, even after their news conference ended: the actions of Stephen Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist.
Bannon is trying to unseat Republican senators loyal to the majority leader in the midterms by backing insurgent primary challengers. Trump said Monday that he has a "very good relationship" with Bannon. At the same time, he hinted he might try to persuade him not to oppose certain GOP senators.
"Some of the people that he may be looking at -- I'm going to see if we talk him out of that, because frankly they're great people," said Trump. He did not specify whom he had in mind.
McConnell took the opportunity to lay out why he and GOP allies work to protect Senate incumbents. He argued that some conservative Republicans nominated in the 2010 and 2012 cycles didn't win because they weren't able to "appeal to a broader electorate in the general election."
"You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home," McConnell said.
Bannon, meanwhile, seemed in no mood to back down. "Sen. McConnell and the GOP establishment have 'sown the wind -- now they reap the whirlwind,'" he said.
SCHUMER SEES 'FAKE MATH'
Trump and McConnell both left open the possibility that a sweeping revision of the tax laws might not happen by the end of the year.
"We have the same agenda," the majority leader said.
The Senate is expected to vote later this week on a budget resolution -- the vehicle needed to unlock the fast-track mechanism that GOP leaders say they want to use to pass a tax bill in the Senate with only 50 votes.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, has said his panel will release tax legislation after Congress adopts the budget resolution.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said last week that his chamber plans on getting a tax bill to the Senate in November, and he will keep the House in session until Christmas if necessary to finish the legislation.
Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, said earlier Monday that the president has told him a tax overhaul must happen in 2017, and Congress will have to stay through any recesses to ensure it's completed.
"You're going to start seeing rhetoric out of the president that this must get done this year," Cohn said at an American Bankers Association conference in Chicago.
Cohn also repeated that the president's two non-negotiable items in a tax bill are a 20 percent corporate rate -- down from the current 35 percent -- and tax cuts for the middle class.
The administration also said Monday that slashing corporate taxes will generate an estimated $4,000 more per year for the average U.S. household.
This 5 percent increase was met with skepticism from tax experts and Democratic lawmakers who said the math was flawed. Spread across every U.S. household, the White House analysis claims it would generate "conservatively" an income jump totaling $504 billion, or about $200 billion more than the revenue currently generated by the corporate income tax.
"President Trump complains about fake news -- this fake math is as bad as any of the so-called fake news he has complained about," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "This deliberate manipulation of numbers and facts could lead to messing up the good economy the president inherited."
The analysis by Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said that the considerably lower rate would spur more investment by companies, which would then boost hiring and worker productivity. The average income gains from the reduced rate would range from $4,000 to as high as $9,000, the administration said. Those figures, however, rely on research projecting that workers -- rather than investors -- would primarily benefit from the lower corporate rates.
Separate studies, including a 2012 Treasury Department analysis, found that the vast majority of any savings would go to investors, making it unlikely to push up wages as much as the administration has argued.
Earlier Monday, Trump convened his Cabinet in the hopes of kick-starting his stalled domestic policy agenda and complained that Democrats in Congress are obstructing his efforts on tax overhauls, health care and the confirmation of judicial nominees.
"The Democrats have terrible policy," Trump told reporters, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. "They are very good at, really, obstruction."
He also lashed out -- without naming them -- at "some Republicans" in the Senate, members he accused of refusing to go along with their party. He appeared to be talking about failed votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Trump said at the meeting that Bannon was "very committed to getting things passed." He added: "We're not getting the job done. And I'm not going to blame myself, I'm going to be honest. They are not getting the job done."
The president singled out Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who cast a decisive vote in the summer against a Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
"You had a few people that really disappointed us. They really, really disappointed us," he said. "So I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels. Okay?"
Trump's feud with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has also rattled his relationship with Capitol Hill Republicans.
Trump is making some efforts to mend fences with Republican senators he has clashed with in the past. He has played golf recently with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., who have criticized him sharply.
"I know the Republican senators," Trump said at his Cabinet meeting. "Most of them are really, really great people that want to work hard and they want to do a great thing for the American public. But you had a few people that really disappointed us."
The president bragged that he is receiving "tremendous accolades" for his effort to cut taxes, and he expressed sadness at the loss of life in the Las Vegas shooting and in forest fires raging in California.
"It's a very sad thing to watch," Trump said of the fires.
For the first time since becoming president, Trump raised the prospect of widespread abuse of welfare payments and hinted that his administration would be making changes to the nation's welfare system.
"People are taking advantage of the system and other people aren't receiving what they need to live," Trump said. "We are going to be looking very, very strongly, therefore, at welfare reform."
"You'll be hearing about them very shortly," the president added. He did not say, specifically, what changes in the welfare system he would seek.
Information for this article was contributed by Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post; by Erica Werner, Jill Colvin and Josh Boak of The Associated Press; by Michael D. Shear of The NewYork Times; and by Alexis Leondis of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 10/17/2017
Print Headline: Trump, McConnell sync up; GOP wants tax overhaul by end of ’17