For all of President Donald Trump’s bragging about his negotiating skills, he has yet to cut any major deals with Democrats — including on his administration’s top priority, tax reform.
Repeatedly, Trump has undercut his own efforts at bipartisanship on everything from an overhaul of the tax code to DACA to health care.
Just on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi canceled at the last minute a White House meeting about funding the federal government, after Trump tweeted about his belief that he couldn’t make a deal with them.
And as the Senate plans to vote on its tax bill this week, there are few signs that any Democrats intend to join the Republicans. On Wednesday night, senators voted to proceed with their consideration of the tax bill along a strict party-line vote.
That’s after months of Trump individually calling Democratic senators from the Oval Office and his trip to Asia; traveling with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to her home state of North Dakota to deliver a tax speech; and inviting Heitkamp, along with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, to the White House for dinner.
Heitkamp has also met with other top White House officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and dined with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both top advisers, at their Kalorama home, said a Heitkamp aide.
But in this hyperpartisan environment, there is little incentive for Democratic lawmakers to help the White House pass any major legislative victory. And policywise, the Senate tax bill offers almost no catnip for them.
“The Republicans have made this choice easy for senators up in 2018. It is a no-brainer to vote against it because it could be one of the least popular bills to ever become law,” said Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress and former special assistant to the president for economic policy in the Obama White House. “The bill just gets more and more toxic.”
It proposes slashing the corporate tax rate permanently, while repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate and allowing the tax goodies for individuals to expire in 2025. That’s the stuff of Republican supply-siders’ dreams, not necessarily a Democratic vision.
“The White House has been willing to engage, but my boss has not received any outreach from Republican members of Congress,” said the Heitkamp aide. “That’s been a source of frustration.”
The president made a final public push for bipartisanship on Wednesday during his trip to Missouri, home of Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who remains publicly on the fence but appears unlikely to vote for the existing bill. On Tuesday, she raised questions about the way the Senate tax bill would benefit wealthy people, including the president himself.
McCaskill is one of the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states that Trump overwhelmingly won.
Trump called out McCaskill by name from the podium Wednesday in his Missouri speech in an attempt to cast the Democrats as obstructionists on legislation that the White House insists will boost the economy. Independent economic experts say the Republicans tax bills may also add to the deficit.
“This isn’t good for the Republican Party, this is good for the country,” Trump said.
But the tax legislation may end up being another data point to the contrary when it comes to Trump’s art of the deal. Trump strikingly failed to woo Democrats in his efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. No House Democrats voted for the House version of the tax legislation.
Privately, White House officials have long conceded that the tax legislation will most likely pass along a party line vote — despite the president’s repeated public overtures toward the opposing party.
The lone spot of bipartisanship, so far, in Trump’s presidency came with the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly were the only Democrats who voted in Gorsuch’s favor back in April.
The best the White House can hope for, officials said, is that one or two Senate Democrats opt to support the final bill once it becomes clear that it will inevitably pass and has enough Republican votes to meet the threshold.
Part of the gap can be traced back to the decision made during the presidential transition to kick off his presidency by undoing Obamacare instead of pursuing an infrastructure or tax bill. The latter two options would have been tougher politically for Democrats to resist, especially under a new president who never adhered to strict Republican orthodoxy and promised to approach Washington differently.
“Senate Democrats feel like they can’t do anything. The only way you get them is if you have a plan that will clearly pass and then maybe Manchin or Donnelly will vote for it,” said one conservative lobbyist with ties to the White House. “No one has seriously thought in a key moment that one of those senators to be the deciding votes [on the tax bill].”
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