Trump woos Democrats on tax reform, departing from health care strategy

President Trump is courting support from congressional Democrats as his administration looks ahead to tax reform and key fiscal deadlines this winter, departing from the Republicans’ failed go-it-alone strategy during the Obamacare repeal debate earlier this year. 

The president dined Tuesday with a trio of red-state Democrats – Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – in an effort to enlist their support for tax proposals. And on the heels of that meeting, Mr. Trump is scheduled to have dinner Wednesday with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, with whom he recently reached a short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government funded. On the menu for their next meeting: a discussion of fall legislative deadlines, immigration action, and health care market stabilization.

Of course, these efforts to woo Democrats might well yield nothing. The president could ditch these new negotiating partners, the congressional GOP could decide to cut Democrats out of the legislative process, and Democrats themselves could decide to withhold further cooperation. But it’s worth noting the contrast between the earlier, partisan approach to health care and the outreach that’s currently happening on taxes and spending.

“I think they’re very aggressive on this,” Manchin said of the White House approach to tax reform in an interview Wednesday with CBS This Morning. “They want it done and they want it in a bipartisan way. I thought it was very good for them to reach out to us.”

“This the first time that I’ve gone to a personal sit-down dinner” at the White House, Manchin added.

During this spring’s health care debate, Manchin – perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, and one of Republicans’ top targets for crossover support – said hadn’t even received an invitation to speak with President Trump, much less dine with him. 

“Has the White House reached out to you at all in this process or Senator McConnell?” Face the Nation moderator John Dickerson asked Manchin in June.

“No. Not yet,” Manchin replied.

Mr. Trump was openly dismissive of negotiating with Democrats on the issue. “Would you be willing to negotiate with all of them?” a reporter asked the president in late June.

“I’ve got to find out if he’s serious,” Trump said of Schumer, the top Senate Democrat. “He hasn’t been serious. Obamacare is such a disaster, such a wreck, and he wants to try and save something that’s really hurting a lot of people…he’s done a lot of talking, bad talking, and he just doesn’t seem like a serious person.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill also dismissed the possibility of working with Democrats on health care.

“The Democrats are not interested in fixing this problem,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in May. “They’ve made it very, very clear: they have no interest whatsoever in fixing the status quo.”

Last month, McConnell sounded similarly skeptical on the possibility of cooperating with Democrats on tax reform. “Most of the principles that would get the country growing again they are not interested in addressing,” he told reporters. “I don’t think this is going to be 1996, when you had a bipartisan effort to scrub the tax code.”

Comments like that underscore the difficulty in enacting any bipartisan action — even amid the deals, meals, and entreaties coming out of the White House in recent days.  

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