Trump calls for welfare reform as he rallies GOP for tax vote

Trump calls for welfare reform as he rallies GOP for tax vote
© Greg Nash

President Trump told House Republicans that he wants Congress to tackle welfare reform after it finishes work on a sweeping tax bill that would slash the corporate rate.

The remarks came during a rare Capitol Hill visit by Trump ahead of a House vote on the tax bill, which lawmakers are expected to approve in a party-line vote.

A confident, jovial Trump said he expected the Senate to also pass tax reform and eventually deliver a bill to his desk, which would give Republicans their first major legislative victory of the Trump era.

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"He said [the Senate’s] going to get there, no problem," Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresCongress should stand for rural America by enhancing broadband connectivity GOP could punt funding fight to January Trump calls for welfare reform as he rallies GOP for tax vote MORE (R-Texas) said as he left the meeting.

The Senate is doing committee work on its tax bill, which now includes the repeal of ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate — a significant bite into President Obama’s signature legislation.

Republicans say their bill will deliver middle-class tax relief to families while sparking job creation. Democrats have blasted the proposal as a handout to corporations that will add to the deficit.

Ticking through a number of upcoming legislative priorities, Trump briefly mentioned welfare reform, sources in the room said.

“We need to do that. I want to do that,” Trump told rank-and-file lawmakers in a conference room in the basement of the Capitol.

The welfare line got a big applause, with one lawmaker describing it as an “off-the-charts” reception.

"[Trump] said, ‘I don’t know what it’s going to be, whether it’s the state grants or what, but we’ve got to fix welfare,’” according to another GOP source. “He talked about the party. He said, ‘We’ve been scoffed at. But if we do [tax reform], we do welfare reform, we straighten out health care, we do some infrastructure, we’ll be conservative.’”

Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsTrump feud puts pressure on Bannon candidates Trump breaks with Bannon in dramatic fashion W. Va. rep calls on Senate challenger to renounce Bannon's support MORE (R-W.Va.), who’s running for the Senate, confirmed Trump raised welfare reform in the meeting, something the president has spoken to Republicans about in the past.

“This is just a platter of key issues that Trump thinks are important, that are his priorities,” Jenkins told The Hill.

The Capitol was under tight security during Trump’s visit given that a protester threw Russian flags at the president during his last trip here last month.

But lawmakers in the room Thursday said Trump was in a good mood, cracking jokes and sharing stories about successes from his recent 12-day trip to Asia.

He recounted how he helped negotiate the release of three UCLA basketball players who were arrested in China on Nov. 6 after they were caught shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store.

Trump said he called up Chinese President Xi Jinping this week and told him the players had made a huge “mistake.” But Trump then acknowledged to lawmakers: “How could this have been a mistake? These were $2,000 sunglasses.”

The president then turned to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse passes tariff-relief bill GOP may increase IRS’s budget Overnight Finance: Congress barrels toward another shutdown crisis | Canada worries Trump will withdraw from NAFTA | Blue-state Republicans push tax law changes | Chamber CEO calls out Bannon, Warren MORE (R-Texas). “Kevin, you’ve never stolen sunglasses, have you?” Trump asked.

Without missing a beat, Brady replied: “I don’t know. What’s the statute of limitations?” eliciting laughter in the room.

“This was Trump at his best,” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a Freedom Caucus member and Trump supporter. “He was funny, he was upbeat, and in a word, a leader.

“His personality can really come out at times when he’s comfortable.”

Trump was seen leaving the Capitol with Vice President Pence and a former House GOP leader, as well as White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, legislative affairs director Marc Short and adviser Stephen Miller.

Naomi Jagoda contributed.

This story was updated at 1:30 p.m.