GOP wants Trump to get in sync

GOP wants Trump to get in sync
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PHILADELPHIA — Republican lawmakers attending the party’s annual retreat say they and President Trump need to get on the same page to take advantage of the GOP’s control of Washington for the first time in more than a decade.

A rocky first week in which Trump became embroiled in controversies over inauguration crowd size and voter fraud has Republicans calling for better coordination between the Trump administration and Congress.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (S.D.), who’s in charge of messaging for the Senate conference, said there’s substantial room for improvement.

“This is obviously a transition that’s underway here. I expect you’ll see probably better coordination over time,” he told reporters.

“Sometimes we’re not always on the same page, but it’s a work in progress.”

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Republicans hope their retreat will serve as an opportunity to move forward together on repealing ObamaCare and enacting tax reform — issues on which there are some divisions among GOP lawmakers.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) on Wednesday laid out a detailed timeline for congressional action that calls for House committees to begin marking up legislation to repeal ­ObamaCare to ready it for action on the House floor by late February or early March.

Also on the agenda is passing a second budget resolution in the spring to pave the way for passage of a tax reform package — which could move through the Senate with 51 votes under budget reconciliation rules.

But those issues were largely overshadowed on Wednesday, as Trump became the talk of the retreat with his call for an extensive investigation of alleged electoral fraud and a draft order authorizing the CIA to reopen so-called black sites in foreign countries.

Republicans who spoke to reporters repeatedly signaled their unease with those subjects.

“I’d advise him and his team to stay on message, which is jobs, jobs, jobs,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said at the media center near Loews Philadelphia Hotel in City Center, where House and Senate Republicans are gathering to rally around a 200-day game plan.

“When you argue over crowd size, when you argue over voter fraud, things like that, you’re taking your eye off the message and I think harming your ability to unify Republicans in the country,” he said.

Thune, asked about Trump’s call for an investigation of massive voter fraud in the presidential election, declared that contest “history” and said he hadn’t seen evidence of voter fraud.

Asked whether he and other Republicans support reversing the ban on torture Congress enacted more than 10 years ago with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, Thune said the torture ban is “settled law.”

Republicans did get down to some business behind closed doors.

Rep. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now House to vote on budget next week Blackburn says she's interested in Corker's seat MORE (R-Tenn.), the interim House Budget Committee chairwoman who briefed reporters on Ryan’s message, said the repeal package will include some reforms to replace ObamaCare. But she cautioned that she and her colleagues are limited in what they can add due to the Senate’s arcane procedural rules.

Language incentivizing the creation of health savings accounts is a likely candidate for inclusion, she said.

Once passed by the House, the legislation will go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) hopes to pass it with a simple majority vote under special budgetary rules.

The goal is to put tax reform on Trump’s desk before the August recess, according to Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of the president’s most loyal backers.

Another top priority in the  first 200 days is to start construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a centerpiece of Trump’s 2016 campaign platform. Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that would jumpstart construction, which he insisted would begin in months.

The wall is another issue where it is not clear if Trump and Republican lawmakers are in agreement.

Ryan told colleagues that he expects to move a supplemental appropriations bill to the House floor later this year but offered no details on how to offset the wall’s cost or whether Mexico would be pressured to pay for it, as Trump has promised.

Infrastructure is another topic of discord.

One of Trump’s top campaign pledges, it initially had not been part of Ryan’s 200-day plan. But Trump personally asked Ryan to include it, sources said.

Ryan said the infrastructure bill will include incentives for private investment, but he did not offer a price tag, as many Republicans are worried that Trump’s preference for a $1 trillion investment could swell the deficit.

Though Trump talked frequently during the campaign about his desire to dramatically improve the nation’s infrastructure, GOP sources on Wednesday said the issue may get pushed into the fall as leaders focus on healthcare and tax reform.

“We have to walk and chew gum at the same time,” House GOP Policy Chairman Luke Messer (Ind.) told The Hill. “Infrastructure is a clear priority for the president, and there is every reason that a major plan can happen this year.”

GOP leaders are already preparing colleagues for a tough vote to raise the debt ceiling as soon as March.

Deficit concerns are looming as a major source of friction between the administration and Congress, as many Republican lawmakers are worried about what impact infrastructure spending and building a border wall will have on the deficit.  

Thune’s message is that Republicans will get on the same page regardless of all the political noise.

He said that while the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress disagree on various issues, he emphasized that “what we have to do is focus on the things that unite us.”

Updated at 8:09 p.m.