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 FlakeKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Flake to Trump: 'Fake news' didn't side with Putin, you did 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 AlexanderSens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix Supreme Court vacancy throws Senate battle into chaos Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion groups see chance to overturn Roe v. Wade with Kennedy retirement | HHS watchdog to probe detention center conditions | VA pick vows to oppose privatization MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families MORE (D-Wash.), the top members of the Senate Health Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment 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 MulvaneyWho watches the ‘watchdog?’ It's time for accountability for the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump suggests China is easing pressure on North Korea because of trade fight | Mulvaney taps top aide as No. 2 at consumer bureau | House Republican to offer bill to curtail Trump's trade powers 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 CruzO'Rourke calls for Trump's impeachment over Putin summit Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems The Memo: Trump leaves chaos in his wake in UK 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 SasseChristine Todd Whitman: Trump should step down over Putin press conference GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki GOP senator: Senate should be 'disgusted' by Helsinki summit MORE (Neb.) and former Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill 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 Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump seeks to quell Russia furor MORE (R-Tenn.), whose office confirmed he will attend, and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPence, Pompeo urged Trump to clarify Russia remarks: report GOP lawmaker renews call for Trump to release tax returns after Putin summit House conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor 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 BurrChristine Todd Whitman: Trump should step down over Putin press conference GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki GOP Intel chairman: Trump should recognize Putin lies 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.