Trump keeps tax squeeze on red state Democrats

Trump keeps tax squeeze on red state Democrats

MANDAN, N.D. — President Trump on Wednesday stepped up his effort to pressure Democrats to back a tax overhaul in the home state of one the party’s most vulnerable senators.

Trump’s cross-country jaunt to an oil refinery here appeared to be aimed at an audience of one: Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Bipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate MORE (D), who the president hopes will join him in pushing for a bipartisan tax plan, the details of which are still under wraps.

The president invited Heitkamp to stand with him on stage alongside North Dakota’s other senator, representative and governor — all Republicans.

“Everyone is saying, ‘What is she doing up here?’ ” Trump said of Heitkamp, drawing laughter from the crowd of hundreds assembled in front of a sprawling tank farm at Andeavor Refinery. “She’s a good woman, and I think we’ll have your support and I hope we’ll have your support.”

Trump’s decision to roll out the red carpet for Heitkamp stood in stark contrast to his approach with Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s walk-back fails to stem outrage on Putin meeting Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate Dems lock in million in TV airtime MORE. The two senators are both up for reelection next year in states that Trump carried.

During a tax reform speech last week in her home state, Trump singled out McCaskill and said voters there should kick her out of office if she votes against his plan.

The president repeated that warning on Wednesday, but left out Heitkamp’s name.

“Anybody who votes against tax cuts and tax reforms … you’ve got to vote against them and get them out of office, because it’s so bad,” Trump said.

Heitkamp flew on Air Force One with the president to North Dakota, and Trump did direct some of his remarks at her. He pointed out that President Ronald Reagan's 1986 tax law was backed by a Democratic senator from North Dakota.

"You listening Heidi? Yes, Heidi's listening."

Trump’s new attempt at bipartisanship comes amid months of pent-up frustration with Republicans in Congress, who have yet to put a major piece of legislation on his desk.

The president spoke in North Dakota several hours after striking an agreement with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to link Hurricane Harvey relief to three-month extensions of the debt limit and federal government funding, even though congressional Republican leaders were pushing for a longer debt-limit extension.

White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short said the three-month deal helps “to clear the decks in September — enables us to focus on tax reform for the American people.”

But Goldman Sachs’s Alec Phillips said that passage of such as deal could decrease the odds of tax legislation passing.

“We believe there is a 40 percent probability that tax legislation will be enacted by 2018, down from our prior view that the odds of tax legislation in 2018 were slightly better than even,” Phillips wrote in a report.

Administration officials in the past have sent mixed messages on working with Democrats on taxes, but the White House is now hoping bipartisanship will provide the key to success.

The president has promised details on a tax plan several times before, and on Wednesday he again pledged “great detail over the next two weeks.”

Trump is expected to continue to sell tax reform across the country in the coming weeks, which may include more stops in states with vulnerable Senate Democrats.

“Whether it be in Missouri last week, North Dakota this week, we've got other targeted states around the country that we are already actively looking at going,” a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday. 

Heitkamp has expressed an interest in overhauling the tax code in order to provide more certainty for businesses and families. She may be more likely than other Senate Democrats to back a Trump tax plan, since she was only one of three in the caucus who did not sign a letter opposing any tax plan that cuts taxes for the rich, increases the deficit and does not move through regular order.

Republicans argue that Trump is smart to be putting pressure on Heitkamp and other Democrats.

“He’s doing the right thing and he’s going to need to keep doing it,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said.

But Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowLobbying world The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Dem senator: Kavanaugh sides with 'wealthiest special interests' MORE (D-Mich.), a Senate Finance Committee member who is also up for reelection next year in a state Trump won, said that “unfortunately, it appears that the president’s always looking at things through a political lens." 

“I can tell you people in Michigan want us to just work together and get things done,” she said Wednesday before the speech. She added that it would be a better use of Republicans’ time for them provide more details on taxes that Democrats could discuss with them instead of providing “slogans and tweets.”

Democrats agree with Republicans that there are problems with the current tax code, but in some cases they disagree about what those problems are and on what a new tax code should look like. In particular, Democrats tend to be opposed to cutting taxes for high earners.

Many Democrats have also complained that Republicans’ outreach to them has not been extensive enough.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenNovartis pulls back on planned drug price increases The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s walk-back fails to stem outrage on Putin meeting Meet the woman who is Trump's new emissary to Capitol Hill MORE (D-Ore.), told reporters Wednesday that Trump administration officials have “frittered away months and months” that they could have used to work with Democrats on taxes.

Trump’s speech broke little new ground on the details of any tax legislation. Instead, he focused on how a tax overhaul would boost the economy.

The president reiterated the four tax principles he laid out in his Missouri speech: a simpler tax code, tax relief for the middle class, a more globally competitive tax rate and a tax code that results in businesses bringing back trillions of dollars that corporations are holding overseas.

Trump also repeated an error that the U.S. is the country with the highest taxes in the world.

Data compiled in 2015 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the U.S. behind countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France in terms of taxes. 

Deficit hawks trolled Trump on Twitter for the claim.

“We are not the highest taxed nation in the world. That is just not true,” tweeted Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The U.S. does have among the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world at 35 percent.