Ahead of a September 5 meeting with the Republican “Big Six” tax reform principals, President Trump added immigration reform to Congress’s long to-do list, but a senior White House official pushed back against the notion that the administration risked overburdening the legislative calendar or clouding its message on tax reform.
Trump announced his decision to unwind an Obama-era immigration program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), in an effort to challenge Congress to act on immigration reform, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said during a daily briefing.
Trump’s meeting at the White House with the Big Six — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.; Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah; and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady, R-Texas — was expected to focus on the legislative strategy for tax reform, including work by the committees to hash out the details of legislation based on a blueprint negotiated by the group and blessed by Trump.
Asked what would make for a successful meeting, a tax lobbyist told Tax Analysts, “Success would be staying on topic and not wading into trade, DACA, and the debt limit.” Yet when asked what the White House wanted to get out of the Big Six meeting, Sanders cast it as part of a wide-ranging discussion of pressing legislative issues.
“We’ll continue to keep you guys posted,” Sanders said of the meeting. “I think the ultimate goal is, as Congress is coming back into session, to talk about some of the big priorities — certainly tax reform, immigration reform, among many other things that are [going to] be on the agenda for the fall.”
In a press call previewing Trump’s September 6 trip to North Dakota for his second presidential speech in as many weeks on tax reform, a senior White House official said that a question about Sanders’s comment reminded him of the adage that the word “love” is spelled t-i-m-e.
The time Trump will spend traveling across the country to sell tax reform to the American people speaks for itself in terms of the priority the president places on the issue, the official said.
In a statement, Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, called the DACA decision disappointing and contended that the need to replace it within six months "means that Congress now needs to reprioritize the fall legislative calendar and move quickly with new legislation to protect [so-called] Dreamers. This means that Congress should adopt legislation on DACA before it tries to adopt a tax reform bill."
"This is the only way, given the number of legislative days Congress has scheduled over the next six months, we realistically can expect Congress to complete DACA legislation in time," Smith added, acknowledging its stake in tax reform but saying that the "humanitarian needs" of those affected by DACA override that interest.
Heitkamp Making the Trip
Senior White House officials on the call revealed that Trump’s second speech would be similar to the one he gave August 30 in Missouri, explaining why tax reform is needed without going into policy details.
In North Dakota, Trump will continue to contrast what he characterizes as uncompetitive U.S. tax policy driving companies to relocate overseas and sell their products back into the United States with an American model for prosperity embodied by four tax reform principles: a simpler and fairer code, middle-income tax relief, business tax competitiveness, and repatriation of locked-out corporate earnings.
The officials also revealed that Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp would join the rest of North Dakota’s congressional delegation with Trump on Air Force One for his trip to her state, which he won by a landslide in 2016. The officials said Heitkamp's inclusion reflected White House hopes to win bipartisan support for tax reform while pressuring Democratic lawmakers facing tough reelections.
The officials would not say whether Heitkamp would endorse the White House’s tax reform effort — only that they hoped she would support the final product — and pointed to what they said were her previous statements expressing hope to work with Trump on tax reform.
Excerpts from the speech shared in advance included a passage in which Trump will note that President Reagan’s tax reform garnered support from a Democratic majority in the House and most Senate Democrats — including one from North Dakota. Addressing employees of a North Dakotan oil refining company, Trump will offer tax relief to those working in “the oil fields of America.”
In a statement following the Big Six meeting, the White House said that participants “reaffirmed their commitment to reducing the crushing burden of the Nation’s self-destructive tax code.”
Meeting attendees were said to have discussed “House and Senate committee hearings on tax reform and agreed that committee activity should continue so that Congress can move to mark-ups on legislation as expeditiously as possible.”
“The leaders also discussed the critical need for funding to support the Hurricane Harvey rebuilding and recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana,” the White House statement added.
Brady declined to provide reporters any specifics after the White House meeting beyond saying Trump’s criticism of McConnell and Ryan didn’t have any effect on the group's unity on tax reform. “I think by every measure, in every discussion, the president, the Senate, and the House are all headed [in] the right direction on the key elements. All are on the same page on the timetable,” he said. “The most important thing for the American people to know is we are unified and focused on delivering them tax relief this year.”
Brady said that DACA's rescission did not affect tax reform's timeline because Congress would be able to revisit immigration policy early next year.
David van den Berg contributed to this article.
Follow Luca Gattoni-Celli (@TheGattoniCelli) on Twitter for real-time updates.