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Trump tax reveal roils presidential race

An explosive report on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE’s tax returns has roiled the presidential race as Democrat Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE and Trump get ready to debate for the first time on Tuesday night.

The White House aggressively sought to push back on the report in The New York Times that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.

Democrats, believing the report could bolster their chances in November, seized on the news, and the Biden campaign released a new ad noting that Trump was paying less in taxes than the average U.S. school teacher or firefighter.

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Republicans acknowledged the report had the potential to hurt Trump at a critical time, as he is trying to catch up to Biden in swing-state and national polls.

The timing was particularly problematic coming a day after Trump announced his Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, which was a potentially unifying moment for the GOP.

“That was the first time that we’ve really seen Donald Trump effectively on offense in seven months,” said Doug Heye, former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

“Being on offense is always better than being on defense. That lasted for less than 24 hours.” 

The report in the Times offered new details about the president’s finances, and said he leveraged losses to pay no federal income taxes in 10 of the last 15 years.

Trump has offered a flurry of defenses in response to the Times report, though none have addressed its core findings. He initially dismissed it as “fake news” and claimed he had not been contacted for comment, despite his attorney being quoted in the story.

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He again insisted he would not release his tax forms while under audit, and on Monday appeared to offer a defense of some of the practices he has deployed to lower his tax bill.

Biden did not address reporters on Monday, meaning his first public comments on the president’s taxes could come from the debate stage. 

But the former vice president’s campaign promptly turned the Times report into T-shirts and buttons that read “I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump.”

Other Democrats piled on, with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Houston will send residents checks of up to ,200 for pandemic relief MORE (Calif.) raising questions about whether Trump is indebted to foreign countries.

“It’s a disdain for America’s working families. It’s not right,” she said on MSNBC. “But our responsibility is to protect and defend and we have to make sure we know what exposure the president of the United States has, and what an impact it has on national security decisions for our country.”

Trump has kept his tax returns hidden from public scrutiny throughout his time in office, a break with the practice of past modern presidents. He has cited an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit as the reason he cannot release the documents, which are being sought by congressional investigators and state prosecutors. 

His allies have argued that the issue was settled when voters put him in the White House in 2016 despite his refusal to release his tax returns, and has used that logic to brush aside any new revelations about his financial dealings.

Details of his taxes have dripped out over the course of his presidency, including through past Times investigations. But Sunday’s report marked the most extensive one yet, with numerous potentially damaging revelations.

The news outlet found that Trump paid no federal income tax in 11 of the 18 years it reviewed and paid just $750 in 2016 and 2017, the most recent years it reviewed.

The reporting also found that while the presidency has aided certain parts of Trump’s business, he is still dealing with significant losses and has a number of sizable loans coming due in the next few years. A $100 million loan on Trump Tower comes due in 2022, and the president could also owe millions more pending an IRS audit of a disputed $72.9 million tax refund.

The findings undermine the image the president has put forth of himself as a successful businessman and real-estate mogul and are at odds with his rhetoric during his 2016 campaign where he portrayed himself as a populist standing for the middle class.

The first debate between the two candidates will take place in Cleveland on Tuesday evening, with Fox News host Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceBiden adviser: 'He does not have any concern' about Trump lawsuits Public health expert: Americans no longer acting 'with common purpose' on pandemic Anti-Defamation League criticizes White House appointee 'who has consorted with racists' MORE moderating the conversation. Wallace plans to ask questions about both candidates’ records, the coronavirus, the economy and the Supreme Court, among other issues. The tax revelations are likely to be brought up during the 90-minute debate. 

“Although I could see it being raised by Chris Wallace, certainly Joe Biden I think very well will find an opportunity to raise that issue,” said Mitchell McKinney, director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri.

“Joe Biden doing that is a way to taunt the president,” McKinney added, suggesting it could be a line of attack that prompts Trump to lash out and come unmoored.

While most headlines critical of the White House tend to fade out of the news cycle quickly because of the sheer amount of damaging stories, the Times reporting is part of a broader series, suggesting the president’s finances will continue to be a point of discussion during the final weeks of the presidential campaign. 

Trump has been beset by negative news stories in the throes of an election campaign before. The Washington Post obtained and published audio of Trump boasting about using his fame to get women and grabbing them by their genitals in October 2016. The Times also published a story the same month that revealed Trump declared a $916 million loss when filing his taxes in 1995. 

Speaking on Fox News Monday morning, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany accused the Times of publishing an inaccurate “hit piece” about Trump close to the presidential debate. 

“This is the same playbook they tried in 2016, the same playbook that the American people rejected and will do so again,” McEnany said. “The president is focused on the issues, he is focused on the American people right now.” 

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Sylvan Lane contributed.