Trump gives jolt of energy to GOP

Trump gives jolt of energy to GOP
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Republicans who were concerned by the tumultuous start of President Trump’s reign are feeling more optimistic in the wake of his first address to Congress.

GOP lawmakers said the president on Tuesday night provided needed direction that they say had been lacking at the very start of his term, when his escalating battle with the media and the confusing rollout of a travel ban overshadowed his healthcare, tax reform and trade agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age MORE (R-Ky.), who had complained about Trump’s tweeting habit and had distanced himself from Trump on several issues including his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, proclaimed that he “became presidential” Tuesday.

Stock markets rallied on the strong performance Wednesday as the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 21,000 for the first time in history.

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After Trump laid out his goals for healthcare reform Tuesday evening, GOP members said they have enough direction to move forward with the next step of a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I really think he’s done about all he needs to do right now,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar Alexander Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Five things to know about the measles outbreak MORE (R-Tenn.), who has played a prominent role in this year’s healthcare debate.

Alexander said Trump filled in missing pieces of the policy puzzle this week by calling on Congress to provide tax credits to help people buy health insurance after ­ObamaCare is repealed and to give governors more resources and flexibility to keep new enrollees in Medicaid from losing coverage.

Republican legislators say they now have what they need to settle the outstanding, intraparty differences on ­ObamaCare

Alexander has organized morning meetings with state insurance commissioners, healthcare experts and industry leaders, and a group of Senate Republicans met with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTreasury to miss Dem deadline for Trump tax returns Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns Mnuchin tells Congress it's 'premature' to talk about Trump tax returns decision MORE (R-Texas) Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the House GOP plan. 

“These are good discussions,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying The Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE (R-Wis.). “You got the president laying out some goals. It all starts bringing more and more clarity. Now we’re starting to home in, zero in on problem areas.”

It appeared before the speech that Republican leaders would have trouble reconciling conservatives in both chambers who oppose creating new subsidies for people to buy health insurance with GOP lawmakers who don’t want to strip coverage from an estimated 20 million people who gained health insurance under ­ObamaCare.

There’s a growing sense that Trump will step in to whip holdout lawmakers into supporting the final bill.

“He’s got the bully pulpit. He’s got his social media. He’s got a large populist message and following, which is the American people who elected him, that he certainly can use. And I believe that he will,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who is close to the House GOP leadership.

The president reassured Republicans who are divided over a House GOP proposal to slash tax rates and pay for it by placing a 20 percent across-the-board tax on imports by telling lawmakers that his economic team is working on “historic tax reform.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions MORE (R-S.C.), a former rival of Trump’s on the 2016 campaign trail, recently said the tax plan touted by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) wouldn’t get 10 votes in the Senate, and another Senate Republican who requested anonymity said it “doesn’t have a chance in hell of passing.”

Ryan hasn’t given up on the proposed border-adjustment tax, which he argues is needed to keep the tax reform package from adding to the deficit.

Trump appeared to side with Ryan by promising his team would unveil a plan that would cut corporate tax rates, provide “massive tax relief for the middle class” and create a level playing field for American companies. His talk of a level playing field signaled likely support for taxing imports, which would make U.S.-manufactured products more competitive domestically.

The president gave new life to immigration reform, an issue that wasn’t even on the congressional radar. That changed when Trump encouraged a small group of centrist Democrats at the White House last month to keep working on immigration legislation.

On Tuesday, he said “real and positive immigration reform is possible,” catching lawmakers by surprise and giving the issue new momentum.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that drafted the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, told reporters Wednesday he’s ready to go all-in on another legislative push.

He said voters “understand you have to deal with the illegal population in a more realistic manner than just saying we’re going to deport them all.”

Lawmakers say they believe Trump’s call for immigration reform is sincere and argue that he has a much better chance of convincing House Republicans — who blocked the Senate bill in 2013 — to vote for it because he has aggressively prosecuted undocumented immigrants and made a strong commitment to border security.

However, the Gang of Eight measure also had a lot of border security provisions, and Trump would face a backlash from his base if he embraced legislation that he shunned throughout 2015 and 2016.

The Trump address put the Capitol’s focus back on policy after several distracting weeks during which leaks about alleged contacts between senior Trump advisers and Russian intelligence officials dominated the discussion. It gave lawmakers and reporters a litany of policy points to chew on instead of his latest tweets.

That was illustrated during the joint Senate-House Republican retreat in Philadelphia in January when a presidential tweet, which came without warning, called for a major investigation into voter fraud.

The president’s social media habits threatened to overshadow talk of the agenda, which was the purpose of the retreat. Since then, he has used Twitter to lash out at fellow Republicans such as Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era Earth Day founder's daughter: Most Republican leaders believe in climate change in private Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing MORE (R-Ariz.) for criticizing his administration and to bash the media as “the enemy of the American people.”

The address to Congress was called “a home run” by Ryan, praised by pundits and put Democrats on the defensive. 

Nevertheless, some Republicans say they still want more details on thorny questions related to taxes and spending.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he was disappointed that Trump did not call for a balanced budget amendment, and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said he wanted more detail on how the administration would fund its long list of priorities.

“It was a speech that was long on themes, and probably short on details,” said Sanford, the former South Carolina governor who’s emerged as one of the loudest Trump critics in the GOP.

“There was not one mention of debt, deficit and government spending,” he added. “There was a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan but not one mention of how we pay for these things.”

Senior administration officials, however, said the goal of the address was to lay out a broad vision for the country, not specific policy details.

“He only had an hour ... and he covered a dozen important topics. It’s clear he’s sticking to his campaign promises,” new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told The Hill. “What more do you need from him?”