Trump Eager to 'Sell' Tax Plan to Voters, Priebus Says

Trump Eager to 'Sell' Tax Plan to Voters, Priebus Says
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When President Trump on Wednesday unveils his tax reform ideas leading into his 100th day in office, he wants Washington and the American people to see “a president who is working at breakneck speed,” his chief of staff explained.

While defending the president’s achievements since January, and Donald Trump’s decision-making style, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters the president is working to navigate roadblocks, including Democrats in Congress, resistance from some within his party, judicial branch challenges to his policies, and enemies on the world stage.

Reacting to news Tuesday that a federal judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s effort to withhold federal funding from cities and communities that defy the administration’s immigration policies, Priebus said the administration would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

“Again, it’s the Ninth Circuit going bananas,” he said in his spacious office, where three muted flat-screen televisions displayed the evening news. 

“It’s clear forum-shopping that’s going on in this country,” he continued, his even, Midwestern cadence picking up speed. 

“I think the idea that an agency can’t put in some reasonable restriction on how some of these monies are spent … will be overturned eventually and we’ll win at the Supreme Court level at some point,” he said. “We’re taking action to appeal this.”

U.S. District Court William H. Orrick ordered a nationwide injunction blocking an executive order that instructed the attorney general to withhold federal grant money from so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Also blocked in federal courts after separate legal challenges are two versions of Trump’s immigration travel and refugee bans, which he unveiled as a prelude to what he described during his campaign as “extreme vetting” to reduce the threat of terrorists entering the United States. 

As president, Trump “is working as fast as he can within the confines of the law, running through that punch list of promises that he made during the campaign,” his chief of staff said during one in a series of briefings organized for White House correspondents this week to mark the president’s 100th day in office on Saturday.

Turning to congressional Democrats, viewed by Trump as political enemies in the Senate, Priebus said continued funding to keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year was now expected in the wake of a preliminary compromise this week to avert a showdown and move on. 

After House and Senate Democrats opposed approving funding for construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico, and with a possible government shutdown looming after Friday, the White House agreed to accept funding for “border security,” which is described as improvements to portions of existing fencing and security technology at the border with Mexico. 

“The president has made clear he’s willing to talk about it,” Priebus said while standing beside his desk, occasionally adjusting the touch screen of a cell phone attached to a power cord. 

“I think that obviously was a bit of a surprise to some of the Democrats who now have to calculate whether or not they can fashion some fake controversy for us to fight over in order to shut the government down and blame us,” he said. 

Examples of what the White House sees as unrelated funding demands introduced by Democrats include continued federal support for the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, Priebus added.

“We want to make sure we protect the military [and] get some money for border security… and move forward with tax reform and health care -- Obamacare -- repeal and replace,” he explained.

The president’s outlook is “positive” that House Republicans could at some point vote for a health reform package after failing to support a version that came to the floor in March. “We’re not going to overpromise anything,” Priebus added. “We’re feeling good about that process as of now." 

The hurdle in March for Obamacare replacement turned out to be GOP conservatives in the House -- not Democrats. It remains a question mark whether House lawmakers decide to return to health care, considered an important precursor to tax reform because of the revenues the repeal of Obamacare could free up on paper. And if Trump cleared obstacles among House Republicans, he’d confront another version of challenges among Senate Republicans before any bill could come to his desk.

Simultaneously, the president on Wednesday will unveil his tax reform principles, urging Congress to adopt legislation that he expects to steer from the drafting stage this summer to what he hopes will be final passage later this year. 

“We’re coming from a totally unified West Wing,” a senior administration official told journalists on background.

But the divisions in Congress and among stakeholders may prove more relevant to success or failure later this year.

A significant rewriting of the tax code last occurred in 1986 and remains one of the most complex and politically challenging enterprises for any president. Trump is eager to lower rates for corporations, offer individuals some tax relief, and simplify the entire code by eliminating popular deductions and loopholes. 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week said Trump is proposing a tax overhaul that would spur economic growth, which the administration argues would help reduce deficits over the long haul by adding revenues to federal coffers. That perspective is known as “dynamic scoring,” and more than a few Republican and Democratic lawmakers would oppose administration efforts to claim deficits would not rise if that tactic were used. 

The president will address an audience of supporters in Pennsylvania Saturday and champion his tax reform ideas, Priebus said. 

“We’re going to have an opportunity for the rest of the week, getting to as many places as we can to sell the products as well as selling our first 100 days, and next week we may do some more things to get in front of cameras … to make sure our tax plan is being properly conveyed across the country,” he added. 

Trump’s tax challenges will be significant. Every proposed tax increase will have detractors, and every deduction has a constituency.  Every proposed tax break for businesses and upper-income Americans will be weighed against “fairness” for small businesses and middle-class and lower-income households. 

On the international front, Priebus said the president has his hands full and is wading into some of the world’s most intractable problems, from North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, to Syria’s deadly civil war, to the challenges of achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East.

In less than 100 days, the administration’s foreign policy approach can be viewed as “a Trump doctrine,” the president’s chief of staff said. 

What exactly is that doctrine? 

Priebus described Trump’s actions and approach to negotiations more than a firm philosophy of global engagement.

“Setting some certain lines of where we’re not going to allow people like [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad to go, but at the same time making it clear that we’re not interested in long-term ground wars in the Middle East,” he explained.

 “Focusing in on ISIS and what we’re doing in the Middle East to protect us here in the United States,” he continued.

“Working with China on ongoing issues with North Korea that are very real and are serious issues that take cooperation within the region to handle appropriately,” he concluded.

The administration invited senators from both parties to discuss options in North Korea during briefings Wednesday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House. The president is expected to attend. 

Trump, reacting to the escalating nuclear threat in the Asia-Pacific region -- as well as the situation in Syria, and Islamic State and other terrorist inroads in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East -- is devoting chunks of his workdays conferring with advisers, absorbing intelligence, and consulting with experts, according to a senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on background. 

“He spends an enormous amount of time on foreign policy,” the official said. “The activity of North Korea has been something that I think the president anticipated, but certainly the situation in North Korea is probably a little bit more volatile than people were initially anticipating.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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