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 McCainFox's Britt McHenry confirms brain tumor, says she's got 'amazing medical team' President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs Appeals court refuses to throw out Joe Arpaio's guilty verdict after Trump pardon 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 RyanGaetz tells CPAC he won't take PAC money Paul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? 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 Donnelly70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Ginsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 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 PaulHillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment Trump upends controversial surveillance fight Former impeachment managers clash over surveillance bill MORE (R-Ky.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Murkowski, Manchin introduce major energy legislation The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate 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 StrangeThe biggest political upsets of the decade State 'certificate of need' laws need to go GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries 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.