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 strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress 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 RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids 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 DonnellyTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign 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 PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (R-Ky.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling 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 StrangeGOP sen: ‘Just a fact’ Moore will face ethics complaint if elected Trevor Noah: Trump must be ‘morally degenerate’ to back Roy Moore Moore gets boost from Bannon in final days of campaign 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.