Trump dishes on NFL, tax reform at private dinner with conservatives

Trump dishes on NFL, tax reform at private dinner with conservatives
© White House

President Trump expressed frustration with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit NY Daily News cover following Helsinki summit shows Trump shooting Uncle Sam MORE (R-Ariz.) for the GOP’s failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare and vowed a “historic” corporate tax cut in a private meeting with conservatives Monday night.

The president also expressed support for Pittsburgh Steelers player Alejandro Villanueva, the lone player from his team to appear on the field for the national anthem before Sunday's game. Sources in the room said the conservative leaders expressed deep admiration for Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, over his actions, while the president mostly nodded along.

The dinner featured a cadre of Washington’s conservative leaders, all of whom remain staunch allies of Trump, including Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips, Heritage Foundation founder Ed Fuelner, American Conservative Union leader Leonard Leo and a handful of others.

Dining on beef wellington, apple pie and cinnamon ice cream in the Blue Room of the White House, sources at the meeting told The Hill that Trump is hell-bent on cutting the corporate rate as low as he can possibly get it.

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The president, sources said, wants his tax reform package to be “historic” and believes that the lowest-possible corporate tax rates will bring back manufacturing jobs, boost gross domestic product growth to 4 or 5 percent and generally make American businesses more competitive.

“Can’t overstate that enough,” one source said. “Of all the policy areas he discussed, he spoke about [cutting corporate tax rates] with great conviction.”

Trump has said he wants to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, but Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit Former Trump aide says he canceled CNN appearance over 'atrocious' Helsinki coverage MORE (R-Wis.) has brushed him back, saying 20 percent is more realistic, potentially setting up another fight between the White House and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.

Sources cautioned that while Trump sees an opportunity to get tax reform done soon, the White House has not expounded on the specifics of the process or the timeline for when a bill will be released.

Trump will travel to Indiana on Wednesday as the White House begins the work of selling tax reform to the public. Sources said Trump will visit at least one state a week going forward.

The White House is expected to focus on red states where Democrats are up for reelection in 2018, believing it may be able to find new allies for tax reform across the aisle. Last week, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Overnight Health Care: Official defends suspending insurer payments | What Kavanaugh's nomination means for ObamaCare | Panel approves bill to halt employer mandate MORE (D-Ind.), who is up for reelection in 2018, joined Vice President Pence, the former governor of his state, for a speech on tax reform in Anderson, Ind.

On health care, Trump expressed deep frustration over the GOP’s inability to repeal and replace ObamaCare. He expressed doubt that the Graham-Cassidy bill would pass this week but said he will return to the issue later in his presidency if it fails.

The president, a source said, expressed confidence he could at some point get GOP holdouts like Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Rand Paul to travel to Russia after downplaying election meddling Implementation of a 'universal basic income' program would be a disaster MORE (R-Ky.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Alaska) on board with a Republican health-care plan.

The president is not stewing over their departures on health care with the same intensity as he is with McCain, the source said.

The groups also discussed defunding Planned Parenthood and the Alabama Senate GOP primary race, where the Trump-backed candidate, Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeCrowley surprise tops huge night for left Races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries Loyalty to Donald Trump is new normal for the Republican Party MORE (R-Ala.), trails former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has the support of Breitbart News, former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and key figures from the House Freedom Caucus.

The Alabama Republican primary runoff is Tuesday, with the winner heading to a general election matchup against Democrat Doug Jones in December.