Hours after proclaiming on Twitter that Democrats are interested only in increasing taxes, President Trump on Wednesday told a group of senators that he wants Democrats' help in cutting taxes.
“The president made clear his preference for a bipartisan bill,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said after emerging from a closed-door meeting at the White House with Trump that included both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee.
“We’re going to give this a try and do the best we can,” said Cornyn, the panel’s chairman.
After the meeting, the White House released a statement that said, “The administration looks forward to continued opportunities to reach across the aisle in an effort to provide tangible quality of life improvements for the American people.”
Wednesday afternoon's conciliatory tone contrasted with Trump's posts on Twitter early Wednesday morning. “The Democrats will only vote for tax increases. Hopefully, all Senate Republicans will vote for the largest tax cuts in U.S. history,” the president wrote.
Trump has both courted and browbeaten Democrats in recent weeks as he seeks support.
In a bid to rally public support for his plan, Trump has staged events in states — Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana — that he won in last year’s election and where a Democratic senator is on the ballot next year. Behind the scenes, however, Democrats have said their attempts at serious negotiations on compromise legislation have received only a tepid response.
Trump and congressional Republicans are working on a plan that would slash the corporate tax rate and simplify taxes paid by families and individuals. It would also eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, changes that would primarily benefit upper-income earners. Many key decisions have not been made, such as what tax rates would apply to certain income brackets or whether the wealthiest Americans would be subject to an even higher tax rate. They also have not decided whether multinational companies that bring money back to the U.S. will have to reinvest any of it in their workforce, among other things.
Though Trump and Senate Republicans expressed an openness to working with Democrats during the meeting, some Democrats came away from the gathering saying the outreach lacked substance, according to one aide who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Trump did not commit to make any changes that would scale back tax benefits for the wealthy, which has long been a demand for Democrats. Instead, Trump said Democrats had political incentives to get behind the plan, saying towards the end of the meeting that he wouldn’t want to be a Democrat in 2018 or 2020 who voted against a tax cut plan.
During a briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the strategy is “pretty simple”: to get enough votes to pass a bill.
Asked whether Democrats are key to that equation, Sanders said “we’d love to see them get on board.”
“We don’t know why any Democrat would want to be against providing tax relief and tax cuts specifically to middle-class America,” she said. “I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t want to get on board with that.”
Multiple nonpartisan analyses of Trump's tax cut initiative have concluded, based on the details released thus far, the vast majority of its benefits would go to the wealthy and to corporations, a conclusion the White House has continually contested.
“That’s not the focus of the tax plan,” Sanders said. “The focus, as we’ve said time and time again, the focus and the priority of the framework that the White House has laid out is to benefit the middle class.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cornyn was flanked by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) when he came outside to talk to reporters.
“I’m hopeful we will be able to find a path forward that will attract some Democrats,” Thune said.
Cornyn said a bill with partisan support would be “more durable.” None of the senators took questions.
Reporters were allowed to witness only the first few minutes of the White House meeting, in which Trump pledged “the largest tax cut in the history of our country.”
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, in my opinion,” Trump said. He joked with Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the committee, that the plan should get unanimous support. Wyden did not respond but smiled broadly.
After the meeting, Wyden released a statement blasting the plan. “All the happy talk about helping the middle class and avoiding a giveaway to the wealthy sounds great, but it is not what the White House and Republicans have on offer," the statement read. "You’re not going to reach bipartisanship by plowing forward with this con job on the middle class.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) brought Trump copies of two tax bills that he thought would align with Trump’s agenda, said an aide, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. One of those bills, the Working Families Tax Relief Act, would expand access to the Earned Income tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, something Democrats believe would help working and low-income households. This measure is co-sponsored by almost all Senate Democrats.
The second bill Brown offered Trump, the Patriot Employers Tax Credit, would create incentives for companies that retain U.S. jobs and pay workers at least $15 an hour with health-care and retirement benefits. The aide said Trump was receptive to both of the proposals, though it remains uncertain whether Senate GOP tax writers will work to incorporate either idea into the final bill.