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How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch

How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch
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Republicans had little room for error to get a tax bill through the Senate. With a narrow majority, the GOP had to minimize defections.

From the start, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (R-Utah) wanted many Republicans participating in the effort and sought to make the process member-driven rather than leadership-driven.

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In late 2016, Hatch approached Finance Committee members Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOn The Money: Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia | Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program | Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms How Kavanaugh got the votes  MORE (R-Ohio), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTrump should stick to his guns and close failed South Carolina nuclear MOX project Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program created by Trump tax law Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senators face Wednesday vote on Trump health plans rule | Trump officials plan downtime for ObamaCare website | Lawmakers push for action on reducing maternal deaths MORE (R-S.C.) and tasked them with helping to come up with the outlines of legislation. At a later point, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Through a national commitment to youth sports, we can break the obesity cycle Florida politics play into disaster relief debate MORE (R-S.D.) also became part of the core group.

Each of the “core four” had different backgrounds and focused on different areas of the tax code. They also helped to explain the legislation to others in the conference.

“We also were given the opportunity to talk to our cohorts or other senators about what they wanted to see in tax reform and just became conduits to help decide what people were looking for in this tax-reform package,” Scott said.

This is the final installment of a seven-part series on how President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE's tax law passed Congress and how it is playing out in the battle for Congress in the 2018 midterm election.

(Part One: Breaking the gridlock)

Scott, the newest of the four to the Senate, focused on the individual tax code. Portman, who has good relationships with moderates, was tasked with the international tax code. Toomey, a former president of the conservative Club for Growth, homed in on corporations. Thune, a member of Senate GOP leadership, worked on noncorporate businesses known as pass-throughs.

Hatch also sought feedback from others on the Finance Committee. And he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats slide in battle for Senate McConnell and wife confronted by customers at restaurant Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care MORE (R-Ky.) worked with key players in the House and the Trump administration to produce a joint framework that would guide the drafting process.

“I wanted them all to feel a part of this,” Hatch said. “I didn’t want any one person taking full credit for what we ultimately did.”

Hatch spoke favorably of President Trump and said that the president was open to his suggestions.

Hatch also praised two key administration officials: Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia | Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program | Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program created by Trump tax law MORE and then-National Economic Council Director Gary CohnGary David CohnOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Cohn defends rate hikes, says Trump shouldn't attack Fed Dina Powell no longer under in running to become UN ambassador MORE.

Hatch said that when Mnuchin first started, he was worried that the Treasury secretary didn’t know much about taxes. But “gradually, he became a master of the tax code.”

“I don’t think people give Gary Cohn the credit that I would,” Hatch said. “I think he’s a great asset. He’s a tremendous student of the tax code and was very, very helpful throughout this process.”

 

Trump heads to Asia

In November 2017, Trump embarked on an 11-day trip to Asia just as tax reform was gaining momentum. Administration officials were worried about losing their top spokesman for nearly two weeks.

But Trump kept in touch, getting updates and making decisions from abroad.

Cohn attended a Nov. 8 meeting of the Core Four members of the Senate Finance Committee — Portman, Toomey, Thune and Scott — to get an update on the legislation they were drafting.

The lawmakers updated him on a couple proposals that they worried might get rejected by Trump, notably the idea of delaying the implementation of the corporate rate cut by one year in order to reduce its budgetary impact.

“They brief Cohn and say, ‘These are all the things we decided,’ ” said a Republican aide familiar with the discussion.

Cohn ducked into Hatch’s private conference room and called the president, who was in his hotel room in Beijing.

After the call ended, “Cohn comes back and says, ‘Alright, I’ve talked to the big guy,’ ” the aide added.

Cohn indicated to the senators that Trump could live with the changes, even though he wasn’t thrilled about some of them.

As Cohn ticked off key provisions such as the corporate rate, the number of individual brackets and other details, he added commentary on Trump’s thoughts.

Trump also relayed to Senate Republican negotiators that he wanted to include the repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate if it would enable Congress to implement that corporate rate cut in the first year of the reform, according to the GOP aide.  

The lawmakers breathed a sigh of relief. With the president’s support, they could move to the next step.

 

Different versions of the bill

The Finance Committee released its initial proposal hours after the House Ways and Means Committee voted on its bill. The two measures differed in certain key areas.

The House bill had four individual income tax rates, while the Senate bill had seven. Senators decided to release legislation with more tax brackets in an effort to prevent people from seeing tax increases.

At the end of a four-day markup, the Finance Committee advanced their bill on a party-line vote. But a big challenge lay ahead: getting GOP senators off the committee with various requests and concerns to get on board.

(Part Two: Dealing with a health care hangover)

Of the three Senate Republicans who voted to kill the ObamaCare repeal proposal, two were fairly easy “yes” votes for the tax bill. Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: Palin unpopular in Alaska following jab at Murkowski Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Ex-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party MORE (R-Alaska) got a longtime priority of hers included in the tax bill — allowing drilling in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE (R-Ariz.), who opposed the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and bemoaned the lack of regular order on repealing ObamaCare, appreciated that the tax bill got a markup in the Finance Committee. McCain died in August at the age of 81.

The third “no” vote on health care, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality MORE (R-Maine), secured a number of specific provisions she wanted added to the bill — such as matching the House provision to provide a $10,000 property tax deduction. She also got a commitment from leadership for a vote on legislation to stabilize ObamaCare, though that floor vote never materialized.

Some lawmakers used bold tactics to draw attention to their priorities. While the markup was still underway, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (Wis.) became the first Senate Republican to say he’d vote against the bill unless changes were made.

Johnson thought the pass-through deduction wasn’t generous enough, and that it would result in corporations having a significantly lower effective tax rate than other types of businesses.

At Senate Republicans’ lunches following the release of the bill, Johnson showed lawmakers charts he developed showing that the bill would lead to pass-throughs converting to corporations, resulting in lost revenue to the federal government.

“They got sick of having me talk about my charts in Senate lunches,” he said.

In the following days, including over Thanksgiving, Johnson had a lot of phone calls with others about a potential accommodation.

Among those he spoke to about his concerns was Trump, who was sympathetic but told him to focus on the big picture.

(Part Three: Obstacles quickly emerge)

After Thanksgiving, Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesTrump administration could use military bases to export coal, gas McConnell: No one is going to beat Murkowski in Alaska Murkowski brushes off GOP backlash: 'I'm good with' Kavanaugh vote MORE (R-Mont.) announced that he decided to join Johnson in threatening to vote against the bill unless the pass-through deduction was made more generous.

Johnson said Daines’s support on pass-throughs was “crucial.”

“I needed an ally,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

GOP leaders eventually struck a deal with Johnson and Daines.

Meanwhile, other GOP senators such as Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Corker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE (Tenn.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance MORE (Ariz.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters The Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh, Ford saga approaches bitter end MORE (Okla.) were concerned about the bill’s impact on the deficit.

Members of the administration, notably Mnuchin, had promised time and time again that the tax cuts would pay for themselves because they would stimulate economic growth. Deficit hawks had been working on trying to get a “trigger” included in the bill that would stipulate that the tax cuts would be rolled back in the event that rosier projections for economic growth didn’t come to fruition.

The trigger idea didn’t set with many outside conservatives. But it was officially killed by a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian who said it wouldn’t work under the rules of the chamber. Corker ended up voting against the Senate bill, the only Republican to do so. He would wrestle with how to vote on the final measure.

In Corker’s telling, he kept his options open for voting “yes” on the final bill and told Trump as much in a phone call.

Two days later, after Trump headlined a New York fundraiser, Corker pitched him a possible solution: Raise the corporate rate just a touch, enough to dampen the deficit problems.

But in the aftermath of the New York fundraiser, Trump seemed unsure.

“Apparently a bunch of his friends were raising pain about the top rate, and apparently the state and local deduction. He apparently caught some hell,” Corker said.

The final bill had a higher corporate rate than the Senate measure, and a lower top individual rate. Corker voted for the final bill.

Thune likened the process of getting the tax bill through the Senate to a roller coaster.

“There’s a real delicate balance because you have our moderates and our real conservatives sort-of just hanging there with really different issues,” he said.

One weekend in December, Thune went to New York with his wife for an event and spent most of the time on his phone working to iron out the issues.

He remembered “my wife walking into a store shopping and being outside on the phone. Or going to my fundraising lunch and spending the whole time outside talking on the phone.”

 

The hat pledge

The nearly 200-page tax bill began with just one number: 24.

In early 2016, a few months after Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Some ObamaCare premiums to decrease next year | Sanders hits back at Trump over 'Medicare for all' | Panel to investigate rising maternal mortality rates House committee to investigate rising maternal mortality rates How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch MORE (R-Texas) took the helm of the Ways and Means Committee but before the GOP knew who would win the White House, Brady doled out navy blue hats emblazoned with the number “24,” the number of Republican lawmakers on the panel.

The Texas Republican, a former college baseball player and big fan of the sport, asked his tax writers to each sign a hat with a silver sharpie as a symbol of their commitment to tax reform.

“Listen, we’ve got a team, and we’re going to get this done,” Brady said, according to Rep. Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyThe Memo: Rust Belt race hinges on Trump How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch How the Trump tax law passed: Breaking the gridlock  MORE (R-Pa.).

Brady thought that making a pledge with the hats would be a good way to help lawmakers stick to their goal.

“I’ve spent a lifetime in sports, growing up in South Dakota in a relatively small town, and I learned that when you personally commit to a goal — especially big goals, almost unreachable goals — it’s the only way you can achieve them,” he said.

The committee members locked the hats away in a glass case in Brady’s office in the Capitol, making a pledge to not open the case until they fulfilled their mission.

“Okay, this is real now,” Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedDemocrats see hypocrisy in GOP attacks on ‘liberal mob’ GOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' Moderate Blue Dogs endorse House rules overhaul to break gridlock MORE (R-N.Y.) recalled thinking at the time.

But given the obstacles to a big tax bill passing, there was some skepticism that the hats would ever be unlocked.

“Everybody thought, maybe in 100 years,” said Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamDems target small cluster of states in battle for House Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger Election Countdown: Big fundraising numbers in fight for Senate | Haley resigns in surprise move | Says she will back Trump in 2020 | Sanders hitting midterm trail | Collins becomes top Dem target | Takeaways from Indiana Senate debate MORE (R-Ill.).

In the following months, the Ways and Means Republicans would glance at the hats as they plowed through the complicated and often challenging task before them.

“There were some late nights here and days where we looked at those hats sitting in those cabinets,” Brady said.

(Part Four: Bipartisanship wasn't an ingredient)

The hats marked a kick off of the process under Brady. The effort, though, was years in the making, Republicans said, pointing to the work of former Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

“You can never forget the two years that we spent with Chairman Camp, going through a bill that ultimately became the first H.R. 1 as he filed it,” said Rep. Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem victories in `18 will not calm party turbulence Election Countdown: Minnesota Dems worry Ellison allegations could cost them key race | Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters | Takeaways from Tennessee Senate debate | Poll puts Cruz up 9 in Texas Poll: Republican DeWine has 3-point edge over Cordray in Ohio governor's race MORE (R-Ohio). “That was really the starting point.”

Camp retired from Congress at the end of 2014. He was succeeded as Ways and Means Committee Chairman by Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (R-Wis.), who shared Camp’s interest in a tax code rewrite. In the fall of 2015, Ryan became Speaker and Brady took over as committee chairman.

 

Working on tax reform from the hospital

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise: Trump was 'clearly ribbing' Gianforte with remarks on body-slamming reporter GOP candidate says he chose bad 'metaphor' with face-stomping comments Democrats must end mob rule MORE (R-La.) was still in the hospital recovering from his injuries after being shot during a baseball practice when he began receiving phone calls from President Trump about tax reform.

"[Trump] called me from the hospital a few times … we would eventually get around to talking about tax reform. He was excited about it, and I was excited about it,” Scalise told The Hill. “I wanted to get out of the hospital for a lot of reasons. One was to go home and see my family, but another was to work on big things and this was a big thing.”

His doctors initially expressed concern about Scalise pushing himself too hard.

“They saw staff coming in and they were like, 'You need to be focused on your recovery.' And I said, 'I spend three hours a day doing physical therapy and rehab and then I'm just laying in the bed watching ESPN," Scalise said with a laugh. "And they were skeptical at first and then they realized, ‘Wait a minute he's actually more excited after they leave than before.’ ”

During his first week back at the Capitol in late-September, Scalise started working on whipping the budget needed to pass the legislation through reconciliation with then-House Budget Committee Chairman Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackHow the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch Trump’s endorsements cement power but come with risks The Hill's Morning Report — Trump optimistic about GOP’s midterm prospects as Republicans fret MORE (R-Tenn.). One week later, the House passed the measure paving the way for Republicans to overhaul the tax code with just 51 votes in the Senate.

(Part Five: GOP adds sweeteners)

But the tax bill’s path to passage encountered many bumps last fall.

Proposed changes to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction had members from high-tax states concerned their constituents would be negatively affected by the bill.

“SALT was the most complicated to address, because it was a real big change policy, it was the right change policy,” he said.

The SALT provisions were modified, paving the way for the House to clear the bill.

 

Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpAttacks on public figures are growing The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | How Trump could work with a Dem House | Trump heads to Florida to view hurricane damage Watchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Sanders for picture with Kanye in MAGA hat MORE’s role

Several senior administration officials said Ivanka Trump played a major role in passing tax reform. She was publicly known for pushing for the child tax credit, though she was involved in helping round up key votes.

She worked closely with Corker and Collins, who both ended up voting for the final measure. Ivanka Trump smoothed over differences that Corker had with her father, seeking to form a productive relationship with the retiring senator.

When Ivanka Trump traveled to Maine, Collins met her at the airport. And while traveling with Collins in the state, President Trump called his daughter, who put Collins on the phone to talk about tax reform.

Ivanka Trump also held more than 70 meetings and/or dinners with members of Congress, according to an administration document.

"Obviously the child tax credit was very important to me,” Ivanka Trump told The Hill, “but I helped craft and garner support for the plan as a whole."

She is quick to credit others in the administration: "It was a strong, unbelievable team effort."

Many Trump administration officials were instrumental in pushing the bill to passage, including Mnuchin, Cohn, Vice President Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossSessions attacks judge who ordered officials to sit for depositions in challenges to Census citizenship question Harris accuses GOP of ‘weaponizing’ 2020 Census DOJ: Commerce chief spoke with Bannon, Sessions about census citizenship question MORE, Small Business Administrator Linda McMahonLinda Marie McMahonFive things to watch for in deteriorating US-Saudi relations Small Business Administration re-doubles efforts in outreach to Hispanic entrepreneurs Trump donates quarterly salary to Small Business Administration MORE and Office and Management Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Consumer bureau to probe top Trump official's past racial comments On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race MORE, among others.

At the staff level, Shahira Knight — who now heads the White House office of legislative affairs — was called indispensable throughout the arduous process. Knight knew the details of tax policies and could read the winds of politics.

“She was the linchpin,” a Trump administration official said.

 

‘Internal coordination’

Republicans were fractured and disorganized on health care in 2017. Tax reform, they vowed, would be different. 

(Part Six: The lobbying frenzy)

When Mnuchin interviewed Tony Sayegh to be his lead communications aide on tax reform, the treasury secretary asked a key question: What would be the biggest obstacle to overcome to pass a tax package?

Sayegh replied, “Internal coordination.”

To help get the Trump administration on the same messaging page, Sayegh was given a coveted “blue pass” to gain entry to the White House at any time. But there was one problem: Sayegh didn’t have a desk.

The solution: Then-White House communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksTrump: 'I don't call it tweeting. I call it social media' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump heads to battleground Iowa, where GOP House members seek help Hope Hicks to become Fox chief communications officer MORE told Sayegh to set up shop in her small office near the Oval Office.

 

Tim Scott, Trump and opportunity zones

Scott had issues with Trump’s controversial comments in August 2017 following white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Several weeks later, when the Senate returned to Washington, Scott, the only black Republican senator, met with the president. During that meeting, Scott asked him to support a bill he had aimed at lifting up low-income areas “as a way to bring people together.”

Scott’s bill was designed to spur investment in low-income communities by giving investors a tax benefit if they invested in areas designated as “opportunity zones.” It was an idea Scott has been working on for several years.

Trump told Scott that he would love to be helpful. The next day, the president spoke about Scott’s bill in a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One.

“Getting that into the tax-reform package was a thrill of a lifetime,” Scott said. 

 

‘Coach Kevin’ and the Astros

Late one night just before the House released its bill, Ways and Means Republicans huddled in the committee’s room on the second floor of the Capitol.

The World Series was playing on a television in the room, but lawmakers instead focused their attention on a white board, where a committee aide was explaining how the bill’s tax break for pass-through businesses would work.

Brady went to a corner of the room and took a picture of the scene.

That moment was one of Brady’s favorite memories from the process of crafting the tax bill. He viewed the process of getting the bill through Congress a team effort among those on the committee.

In turn, his colleagues called him “Coach Kevin” and viewed his efforts as indispensable.

Brady had begun holding team-building exercises with Ways and Means members at some point after he became chairman, asking lawmakers to write down their top priorities — and biggest concerns — in tax reform.

It was a way to set their intentions and get everyone on the same page, literally and physically, as they embarked on their ambitious quest to rewrite the tax code.

“Kevin was bringing that kind of baseball coach mentality,” Reed said. “It was getting the team together.”

Republicans across the board credit Brady’s even-keeled demeanor and warm, welcoming style with being able to lead the restive GOP conference.

A previous GOP chairman who passed tax cuts, former Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) was known for cracking the whip. But Brady, with a short stature and shiny bald head, came off as firm and tough, yet nonconfrontational and willing to listen. He was seen a calming presence in the sometimes-tumultuous storm.

Brady began dedicating every waking moment to tax reform. Sometimes, Brady stayed in Washington over the weekend instead of going back to his home in the Houston area.

The Sunday before the House released its bill, Brady was still working when one of his aides told him to go back to his D.C. townhouse and watch the World Series, which his beloved Houston Astros were playing in.

Brady followed this advice, but when he got home, there was a glitch — his cable was out.

“It was the famous fifth game, maybe one of the best World Series games in history, with my team,” Brady said. He ended up reading about the end of the game, which the Astros won 13-12 in the 10th inning, on his laptop.

“That was where tax reform was painful,” he said.

When the World Series was on in the Capitol while he was working, Brady wouldn’t look at the TV for fear of jinxing the Astros. His home team ended up winning the World Series hours before the House dropped its bill.

Brady was less superstitious about the tax bill. But he said his roommates noticed that he started playing increasing louder and more energetic music in the mornings in the D.C. townhouse as the process moved along.

At night, Brady would sit at home on his green, fake-leather, duct-taped chair with some of his roommates, looking over documents and dishing on the latest tax reform developments with his roommates Reps. Scalise, Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenPaul Ryan to campaign for 25 vulnerable House Republicans How America’s urban-rural divide is changing the Democratic Party The bipartisan PACT Act would ensure access to life-saving bone marrow transplants for Medicare beneficiaries MORE (R-Minn.) and John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusHow the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt MORE (R-Ill.).

The late nights and the sacrifices were all worth it, Brady said. When he banged down the gavel at the end of the committee markup after Republicans had united to pass the bill, Brady got emotional.

“That was a special moment,” he said.

 

Pushing the child tax credit

A last-minute obstacle emerged during the conference-committee process, when Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Meghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family The Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump MORE (R-Fla.) said he would vote against the bill unless the refundable amount of the child tax credit was increased, and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line MORE (R-Utah) said he was undecided for similar reasons.

Rubio and Lee had been pushing for years to increase the amount of the child tax credit and saw a window for opportunity to achieve their goal with the tax bill. The pair held several meetings with the White House about the issue, including Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser.

“She became convinced that this was both good policy and somewhat achievable,” Lee said.

Other allies of Rubio and Lee were Sens. Scott and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Biden: American values being 'shredded' under Trump Trump says Heller won lone Nevada Senate debate: 'He beat her very badly' MORE (R-Nev.), who both serve on the Finance Committee.

In the months leading up to the bill’s release, senators were stuck at increasing the credit amount from $1,000 to about $1,600. But Scott said Ivanka Trump worked to push to boost the size of the credit.

When the bill came to the Senate floor, Rubio and Lee offered an amendment to make the child tax credit refundable against payroll taxes, offset by a slight uptick from the proposed corporate tax rate of 20 percent.

The amendment didn’t sit well with a lot of other Republicans, who made a low corporate tax rate one of their top priorities. The amendment failed, but Rubio and Lee still voted for the bill. At the time, they didn’t threaten to vote against the legislation if their amendment failed because they still were open to other ways to pay for it.

But after word came out that the conference committee had plans to bump the corporate rate up to 21 percent for reasons other to pay for a further expansion of the tax credit, Rubio and Lee took a more forceful stand.

“We both found that quite troubling,” Lee said.

Rubio said he’d vote against the bill if the refundable amount of the child tax credit wasn’t increased, while Lee said he was undecided.

Scott talked frequently to Rubio and Lee to work with them on getting a deal.

“Marco and I both continued to hold our ground, saying, ‘Look, if you want my vote, it’s not really that hard, but you got to give something,’ ” Lee said.

The conference negotiators were able to increase the refundable child tax credit to $1,400, which secured Rubio’s and Lee’s votes. Scott, who has a friendship with Rubio that predates the tax bill, played a key part in those negotiations.

“The strength of our relationship allowed for us to go through that challenging and difficult time,” Scott said.

 

The messaging game

In the early fall, Republicans were starting to grow worried that the Democrats were gaining ground in the messaging war, which they knew would be crucial for the bill’s popularity with the public.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi heckled by Miami Republicans, Proud Boys at campaign event Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) had launched an aggressive attack strategy, calling the measure a “tax scam” and making the case the bill was nothing more than a corporate giveaway designed to benefit the wealthiest Americans.

So, Republicans went on offense, doing a flurry of cable TV appearances and frantically selling the tax-cuts package every chance they had.

“We went on TV a lot more,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsConservative rep slams Rosenstein's 'conflicts of interest' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump, Obama head to swing states with Senate majority in balance Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersTrump 'baby blimp' flies in Washington state for Pence visit The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — FBI widens scope of Kavanaugh investigation | Nightmare vote for red-state Dems | Five weeks to midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh ordeal thrusts FBI into new political jam MORE (Wash.) arranged "media rows" with a bunch of local print reporters and television stations, which took place in a conference room inside a House office building. Members were encouraged to come in, go down the line of reporters and do as many interviews on tax reform as possible.

A Trump administration official said the White House focused on winning the message outside the Washington Beltway: “Our plan wasn’t to have it play well on CNN, but to have it play well in Peoria.”

A week before the tax bill passed the House, the polling numbers on the legislation were bad.

But Scalise said he wasn’t worried about losing votes.

“There were a lot of members that saw the wind blowing against them on this bill but knew it was the right thing to do to get the economy moving again and voted for it despite what the polling of the day might have shown,” Scalise said.

 

The frantic end

The House vote wasn’t a major cliffhanger, but it was a charged debate less than a week before Christmas. When all the votes were registered and the vote was gaveled, Mnuchin was in the House gallery and started to clap. A security guard quickly told Mnuchin that no clapping is allowed in the gallery.

A few weeks after passage, lawmakers on the Ways and Means Committee finally broke out their signed “24” hats from the glass case. They brought in Ryan, Camp and former Ways and Means member Bob Dold (R-Ill.) to give them honorary hats.

“We got the band back together,” Reed said.

The final Senate vote, which occurred Dec. 20, was more of a nail-biter. Administration officials were nervous in the days leading up to the roll call as the votes of Corker and Collins were still in play.

Several administration officials said they were not guarded against overconfidence after the ObamaCare fiasco. Some Republicans said they knew they had the votes a day before the final vote, while others maintained the drama extended throughout the debate on the Senate floor.

Marc Short, who at the time was Trump’s director of legislative affairs, said he wasn’t sure until the night of the vote: “But I also confess I felt more confident all along because I had seen the pressure that members were under after the health-care vote. I was pretty confident that we were going to get it done one way or the other. “

Vice President Pence was on call to cast the tie-breaking vote. That would have been necessary if one Republican broke ranks. As Cohn paced the hall behind the Senate chamber, Pence called Ivanka Trump to trade information on the latest developments. But she couldn’t take the call because she was on the phone with the president.

Pence’s vote was not needed as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed 51-48 at 12:31 a.m.

 

Trump hands out signing pens

There was discussion of having a high-profile ceremony in January where Trump would sign the bill into law. Such a press event couldn’t happen before Christmas because lawmakers had already headed home. But Trump rejected the idea. He wanted to fulfill his promise to sign the measure in 2017.

Ken Kies, the managing director of the Federal Policy Group who had worked as a top aide on the 1986 tax reform effort, took notice of the low-key signing ceremony on Dec. 22.

“There was no audience. The only people there were the television camera guys and the boom mic guys. There was no one else in the room. It’s live, he’s signing it and he gets done, and he goes, ‘Hey, you want some of these [signing] pens?’ ”

Kies added, “I’m watching it on TV and I’m thinking oh my God, the members of Congress who kill for those things are watching going, ‘Wait a second, he’s giving them away to the camera guys?!’”

 

Members of The Hill's staff who have worked on this tax reform series over the last several months are Alexander Bolton, Juliegrace Brufke, Timothy Cama, Jordain Carney, Bob Cusack, Niv Elis, Naomi Jagoda, Mike Lillis, Peter Sullivan, Megan R. Wilson and Melanie Zanona.