WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's plea for party unity in the drive to pass tax reform received a skeptical reception from some Republicans on Capitol Hill Monday.
After months of internal divisions and a failure to score any major legislative wins, the president is trying to rally the GOP troops, telling House members on a call over the weekend that he's a Republican "inside, out and backwards" and that he's "for the Republicans," according to an individual familiar with the phone call.
"All these sentiments are truisms. It would have been nice to see this attitude as conservatives were being rolled on emergency and debt votes," said an aide to one conservative Republican House member. "It seems we are all on the same team only on tax reform."
Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., addressed the divide among Republicans throughout the country, referencing those members from more moderate districts who are less inclined to back the president.
"My guess is in the competitive swing districts where SALT [the state and local tax deduction] is an issue, Trump leaning in preaching party unity isn't something those districts may find compelling," Costello said.
Trump is attending the weekly Senate Republican lunch Tuesday in an attempt to gather support for a tax reform bill that has yet to be released. He'll be in a closed-door lunch where many in the room are those he's publicly attacked, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, whom Trump has also feuded with, called the visit "a photo op."
"Tomorrow's a photo op, nothing more nothing less. To read anything more into it would be spending a lot of time on something that shouldn't be spent a lot of time on," Corker said. "It's going to be up and down for the next three years and that's just the way it's going to be. I don't read anything into tomorrow other than a photo op."
Some Republicans on the Hill are skeptical of Trump's party loyalty after instances where he openly attacked elected Republicans and members of the party's congressional leadership. His former top adviser, Steve Bannon, has declared an all-out "war" with the GOP establishment, vowing to run a primary candidate against nearly every sitting Senate Republican up for re-election in 2018.
Republicans are entering into a critical phase in their effort to pass tax reform. Some conservative members are going out on a limb, breaking their campaign promise and their principled stance of opposing any legislation that would add to the deficit in order to advance tax reform.
"Am I feeling the pressure to get this done? Yes. Have I been willing to negotiate a little more generously because of that pressure? Yeah. That's just shooting straight with you," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
The Senate passed their budget last week, a critical step in moving forward on tax legislation. The House is taking up the Senate's budget this week, even though it adds to the deficit.
House Republicans plan to move quickly on tax reform. They expect to unveil legislation within the next two weeks with a goal of passing it before Thanksgiving. But the Senate is likely to move more slowly, hoping to pass their bill before Christmas.
Trump told House Republicans that the Senate needs to move more quickly because the longer they wait the more time people have to change their minds.
While Trump urges party unity, he and his team have yet to reach out to two critical members of the Senate on the issue. Both Sens. McCain and Susan Collins, R-Maine, say that they have yet to speak with Trump or White House aides about tax reform.
"I had early on (had a meeting) with members of the president's economic council but mainly I've been talking to my colleagues about it," Collins said.
While Trump impressed his Republican credentials in the call to House Republicans, he also knocked McCain, without naming him, for not voting for health care. And he told them that he'll work to get the support of four Democrats from states that he won by 20 or 30 points.
White House aides and the president have been heavily courting Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, all Democrats who are from states that Trump won and are up for reelection in 2018.
All three joined Trump at rallies in their respective states in recent months and attended meetings at the White House. Heitkamp and Manchin attended a bipartisan dinner at Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner's house with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
"You keep asking us if we're going to support it. I don't know what 'it' is," Heitkamp said of the unreleased bill.
Trump warned Republicans that the 2018 elections will be a "bloodbath" if they don't pass tax reform.