WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called 12 Senate Democrats Tuesday, hoping to sway them in favor of the Republican tax cut bill, and told them he would personally "get killed" financially by the GOP bill. He said the wealthy need a repeal of the estate tax, according to multiple people who were present.
"My accountant called me and said 'you're going to get killed in this bill,'" the president said during a phone call from his trip in South Korea. He was apparently trying to increase Democratic support by claiming the bill would hurt wealthy taxpayers like himself, making the point that only the repeal of the estate tax would provide him any benefit.
Many of those Democrats are from states Trump won in 2016.
After the call with Trump ended, the meeting, which included his legislative affairs chief Marc Short and economics adviser Gary Cohn, turned into a sparring match between Democrats and White House officials over a politically broken Senate and who is to blame, multiple senators who attended the meeting said.
Short confirmed the president's remarks and said they were part of a discussion on the elimination of individual deductions in the tax bill. Short said the estate tax was a separate issue.
Trump told the Democrats on the phone that he wanted a repeal of the estate tax in the bill because they had to give something to rich people, people in the room said.
"I think that we've been advocating for the elimination of the death tax for a while," Short told NBC News, using the favored Republican term for the estate tax.
Trump, a billionaire, has not released any tax returns and so it has not been possible for the public to assess how this plan could benefit him personally and his family. Senate Republicans are rushing to release their tax cut bill later this week.
Asked to comment on the president's remarks to the group, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, "The president did call in and urged senators to support the bill."
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the president told the Democrats "this bill is terrible for rich people, and we (Democrats) don't really agree."
An analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation found that after 2023, people making between $20,000 and $40,000 would see a tax increase. People making $200,000 to $500,000 per year would also see a tax increase after 2023 under the current GOP plan. A repeal of the estate tax would give the wealthy an additional $300 billion dollar tax break.
The House is amending its version of a tax overhaul initially released last week and the Senate is expected to unveil its version of a bill on Thursday. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to move quickly, advancing the measure though the committee process starting Monday, a timeline that Democrats say shuts them out of the process.
Senate Democrats complained about components of the House bill during the meeting, but Short and Cohn told them that the Senate bill will be much different than the House version and that the Senate bill is the one that matters.
The hour-long meeting became increasingly testy when Democrats complained about the process. Republicans have been crafting a bill behind closed doors and have sought no Democratic input.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., grew frustrated and got into a heated back and forth with Short.
"Give us your input now," Short told Tester, according to the Montana senator.
Democrats continued to complain about Republicans locking them out of the process, making the argument that true bipartisan tax overhaul should get the support of 70 senators.
But Short responded to their concerns by blaming Democrats for Senate dysfunction because they have held up Trump's nominees.
Hallie Jackson contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.