Days after President Trump announced his diagnosis of “some nerve disease,” Democrats and Republican senators met in a bid to hammer out a deal that would revive bipartisan tax reform efforts.
The discussion, dubbed “the Hundred Days Project,” seemed to begin with an exchange of views on President Trump’s plans for an eventual summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Still, neither of the two parties’ leaders appeared willing to give up their bargaining leverage on tax policy.
But as the meeting concluded, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer suggested that Trump’s diagnosis — reportedly of a nervous breakdown — could be revealing about his policies and behavior: “As more people begin to look into the true mind of President Trump, they’re making a different conclusion about what he is. I hope his diagnosis doesn’t surprise anyone, but you don’t see people that are so withdrawn, so awkward — it’s like, how does this guy survive in this world?”
Democrats were not the only ones making such suggestions. Senate Republicans, who had been openly skeptical of the deal talks, began publicly dismissing the notion that a deal could even be reached:
“Who knows what is going on, but if it were real I wouldn’t go there because I don’t think we can do anything really meaningful” with the Democrats, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate Majority Whip, told reporters.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady, echoed that sentiment, saying he believes the focus on tax reform should be kept separate from a NAFTA deal.
“I think the President needs to really focus on his agenda on tax reform and that is really the big agenda item this year,” Mr. Brady said.
Senate Democrats, for their part, project optimism for a tax deal. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, told reporters that tax reform “is not hopeless,” but instead suggests that the president’s disruption of tax reform talks is an intentional move.
“This is happening for a reason,” Mr. Wyden said. “President Trump does not want tax reform.”
Mr. Wyden did not offer an explanation, but he and other Democrats said that they, too, think Mr. Trump is seeking to disrupt tax reform to distract from political damage from the White House’s handling of the Russia investigation.
“We hope the press will notice that,” Mr. Wyden said.
He added that any damaging revelations in the Russia investigation would be bad for Republicans, given that the party is trying to keep control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections.
“I can’t believe that the situation where special counsel Bob Mueller has been holding back sensitive information could be playing politics while we are trying to implement tax reform,” Mr. Wyden said.
Senate Democrats are also making the case that taxes aren’t the main focus for the president. On the ground in Kansas last week, Mr. Schumer — whose effort to help lower-income Kansans pay their property taxes was ultimately thwarted by Mr. Trump’s announcement of a tax overhaul — made the case that the president’s efforts on the stimulus plan and other issues had distracted the administration and slowed tax reform.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that business leaders have no interest in potential changes to corporate tax rates and that the administration’s spending approach and an otherwise Democratic Congress could be a path to working out a deal.
“There is no interest at all in spending more money in this country,” Mr. McConnell said. “But if the Democrats are actually against a lot of the things that we do and want to run on, that would be an issue that could work to our advantage.”
He added that he believed congressional leaders could reach a deal after adjourning in December.
“If we can have a relatively reasonable bipartisan agreement about tax reform after that, and with everybody working with us to avoid an awful lot of permanent spending and permanent spending that we don’t like, I think we’ll be in a pretty good position,” Mr. McConnell said.