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Trump Visits Capitol Hill As McConnell Lobbies For Tax Votes


I'm Robert Siegel in Washington, where the Senate Republicans' tax plan is picking up some momentum. It's still a work in progress. Several Republicans remain undecided. But this afternoon, the bill cleared a key committee vote. And after President Trump had lunch with some Republican senators, some of the holdouts sounded pleased with where things are headed.

NPR congressional reporter Scott Detrow joins us now from Capitol Hill with the latest. And Scott, the Senate Budget Committee approved the bill this afternoon along party lines. How significant a step was that committee action?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: It does keep things on track for a final Senate vote by the end of the week, which is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's goal. The committee vote was also key for another reason. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker and Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson both sit on the Budget Committee. They've both raised big concerns about this tax bill, but both of them voted yes in committee. Still, both Corker and Johnson say they want to see changes before they're yes on a final vote. Mitch McConnell knows he has a lot of work to do with them and several other Republicans.


MITCH MCCONNELL: It's a challenging exercise (laughter). Think of sitting there with a Rubik's Cube, trying to get to 50. And we do have a few members who have concerns, and we're trying to address them. And we know we would not be able to go forward until we get 50 people satisfied.

DETROW: And it's actually a little tougher than a Rubik's Cube because a lot of the things that Republican lawmakers want cost money. And if this bill adds more than $1.5 trillion to the debt, under Senate rules, that means it would need 60 votes to advance, which means some Democrats would have to be onboard.

SIEGEL: Now, President Trump had been trying to pressure Democrats from Republican states to support the bill. Whatever happened to that effort?

DETROW: He did. He campaigned in several states that met three criteria - one, that he won the state last year; two, that it has a Democratic senator and three, that that Democratic senator happens to be up for re-election next year. But that outreach faded very quickly. And at this point, Republicans are proceeding where they only need Republican votes. They're not really courting Democrats anymore. They never really seriously tried. Here's what Joe Donnelly from Indiana said about all of this.

JOE DONNELLY: And this is a real effort. I flew back and forth to Indiana with the president. I went out to Indiana when the vice president went out there. I've met with one group after another on this to try to get this done. But that's not what this legislation is.

DETROW: So Donnelly and other moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia are saying they do want to vote for a tax cut, but they don't want to vote for this bill, that they have significant problems for it - among them that in the Senate bill, corporate tax cuts are permanent, but individual tax cuts expire. And the Senate bill also eliminates the Affordable Care Act's mandate for insurance purchases.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Some Republican senators said that President Trump talked about Obamacare during that luncheon meeting. Did we hear anything new from the president there?

DETROW: Yeah. He told them that he's onboard with an effort from Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Democrat Patty Murray to subsidize insurance payments for lower-income people in Obamacare markets. These are subsidies that President Trump recently canceled. He's expressed support for this bill in the past. He's said he's against this bill in the past. He's gone back and forth. But this latest statement that he's for it is seen as a way to get Susan Collins onboard - Maine Republican who has been very concerned about what the mandate repeal would do for Obamacare and has said that if she's going to vote for this tax bill that includes that, she wants to see those subsidies.

SIEGEL: And Scott, we've been talking about how much is going on in Congress right now just apart from taxes. There was some drama today around talks between Trump and Democrats to avert a government shutdown. What's an update on that?

DETROW: Well, there was no meeting today. There was going to be a meeting with Democratic leaders, Republican leaders. Trump insulted Democrats on Twitter this morning, and Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer said they weren't going to go to the meeting. So Trump had the meeting and sat next to empty chairs earlier this afternoon.

SIEGEL: That's NPR congressional reporter Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.