Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting

Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting
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President Trump will meet with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill for the first time since taking over the White House.

The meeting, which will take place Tuesday during the caucus’s weekly policy lunch, is slated to focus on an increasingly crowded end-of-the-year agenda and rally Republicans to unify as they enter a make-or-break stretch on tax reform.

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But the caucus powwow could also test Trump’s ability to stay on message as he comes face to face with some of his most vocal GOP critics, including Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (R-Ariz.) who sparred with then-candidate Trump during last year’s caucus meeting.  

Here are five things to watch:

Does GOP iron out any details on tax reform?

The focus of the closed-door meeting is expected to be on Republicans’ biggest goal for the remainder of 2017: passing a tax plan.

Despite having the first unified GOP government in roughly a decade, Republicans have struggled to score major legislative wins and failed on their first big agenda item: repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

Republicans have pivoted to tax reform, which they say is must-pass legislation this year. But there are already signs of dissension between both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.

House Republicans hadn’t made a final decision, but they were said to be considering reducing the amount of money Americans could put into their retirement savings accounts each year. Trump weighed in on Twitter on Monday, saying no changes would be applied to an individual’s 401(k).

“There will be NO change to your 401(k). This has always been a great and popular middle class tax break that works, and it stays!” Trump said in a tweet.

Does Trump weigh in on latest health care push?

Pressure will be on Trump to clearly stake out where he is on a bipartisan bill by Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCDC director to miss fourth hearing because of potential ethics issues Week ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare MORE (D-Wash.), the top members of the Senate Health Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.) said Sunday he would bring up legislation aimed at stabilizing the individual insurance market if it has Trump’s support.

“I’m not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I’ll be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it,” McConnell told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Trump has sent mixed signals on the Alexander-Murray proposal that would extend ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reduction payments after the administration announced it was ending them. He appeared to take credit for the bipartisan talks, and privately encouraged Alexander, before appearing cool to the details of the deal.

The reversal confused GOP senators who publicly urged Trump to clarify what more he wants in the agreement.

"The next step is for the White House to say what it would like to see added," Alexander told reporters on Monday. "The White House has the ball right now."

Alexander told reporters that he called and thanked McConnell for his comments but expects Trump to focus on tax reform. 

"I doubt if I'll hear anything [Tuesday]," he told reporters Monday evening. 

In addition to health care, Congress is facing a slew of end-of-the-year deadlines, including getting a government funding deal by Dec. 8.

Asked what the message to senators on Tuesday will be, Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOvernight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule MORE, Trump's budget director, also pointed to wanting the Senate to have a longer workweek including Friday sessions and the “occasional weekend” vote.

Trump has had 175 nominees confirmed as of Oct. 19, according to a tracker by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, compared with 359 by the same point for President Obama and 375 by the same point for President George W. Bush.

Do senators bring up Stephen Bannon’s primary threats?

Trump could face questions about Stephen Bannon, his former chief strategist, as the Breitbart News chairman is taking aim at GOP incumbents.

Republicans face a favorable map in 2018, where Democrats are defending 25 seats including 10 in states won by Trump.

However, there’s growing concern that a slate of nasty primary fights could drain party resources and put otherwise safe seats in play if antiestablishment Republicans win the primary but struggle in the general election.

GOP senators, including McConnell, are downplaying Bannon’s impact.

“Well, you know, this element has been out there for a while. They cost us five Senate seats in 2010 and 2012 by nominating people who couldn't win in November,” McConnell told CNN on Sunday.

But Trump, asked about Bannon’s efforts during a recent press conference, didn’t directly tell his former strategist not to challenge incumbent senators.

“I like Steve a lot. Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing. Some of the people that he may be looking at, I'm going to see if we talk him out of that, because, frankly, they're great people,” Trump said.

Bannon has said he wants to challenge every GOP incumbent up reelection next year, except Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE (Texas).

Does Trump lash out at GOP senators?

Trump’s previous attempt at winning over a skeptical Senate GOP caucus heading into the party’s 2016 convention ended up in fireworks.

The meeting, which was arranged to try to get Republicans and the then-candidate on the same page, went off the rails when the president got into a verbal spat with GOP Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and criticized GOP Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws GOP senator demands briefing from Sessions after reports of Russian hackers targeting Senate MORE (Neb.) and former Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.).

Republicans are hoping to avoid a repeat of the fight, meaning Trump will need to stay on message. But he’ll have plenty of opportunities to lash out at his largest critics.

A spokesman for Flake confirmed the Arizona Republican, who is up for reelection in 2018, will attend the lunch.

Trump previously pledged to defeat Flake during the 2016 meeting. He praised former state Sen. Kelli Ward, his primary challenger, on Twitter and called Flake “toxic” and “WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate.”

Trump will also see Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics MORE (R-Tenn.), whose office confirmed he will attend, and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.).

Corker, who is retiring after 2018, has lobbed volleys at Trump including comparing the White House to an “adult day care center” and warning that Trump could lead the country into World War III. Trump has mocked Corker on Twitter.

Meanwhile, McCain, who has traded sporadic insults with the president for years, laughed when asked on Monday during an interview on ABC’s “The View” if he is “scared” of Trump. McCain confirmed Monday evening that he would attend the lunch. 

Will anyone skip the meeting?

When then-candidate Trump came to Washington last summer for his first meeting with the Senate GOP caucus, several senators up for reelection in blue and purple states didn't attend.

Now most, if not all, of the 52-member caucus is expected to be at the meeting.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Senate Intel chairman: No need for committee to interview Bannon McConnell: Russia probe must stay bipartisan to be credible MORE (R-N.C.), who has skipped previous White House meetings, said Monday he would attend the lunch. 

"I'm going to be in a body of colleagues, I don't think it's improper," Burr told reporters. 

Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters earlier this year that he would avoid going to the White House because of his panel’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.