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Stakes Are High As Republican Tax Overhaul Deadline Nears


President Trump is heading to Capitol Hill this afternoon to talk taxes. GOP leaders are still hoping to pass their tax overhaul by Christmas, and the stakes are high. Here's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, yesterday on CNN.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: The fate of the party's in our hands, as well as that of the economy.

GREENE: All right. Let's turn now to NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey, Tam.


GREENE: The fate of the party is in our hands, Senator Graham says. Those sound like high stakes.

KEITH: They believe that they need to get this done, that they basically have no major legislative accomplishments for the first year of Trump's presidency and having Republicans in control of the House and the Senate. And they believe this tax bill, or, some variation on this tax bill, is the way to get something big done, and they want to do it this year.

GREENE: Well, what are the obstacles? I mean, I know you have some Republican senators who are very concerned about what this tax overhaul would do to the deficit, right? Does that sort of sum up the challenge for President Trump to get people on board, or are there more concerns?

KEITH: There are more concerns, and the deficit is a big one that the Congressional Budget Office says that it would add $1.4 trillion to the deficit. That's a lot of money. So that is one concern. Another concern is that it doesn't do enough for small businesses. John McCain, the Arizona senator, told a Wall Street Journal reporter that he's concerned about, quote, "a lot of things." So the president will have some convincing to do. Typically, he doesn't get into the specifics of policy so much as making the political case, like, hey, guys, we've got to do this thing.

GREENE: It has to be done. And McCain, we should say, I mean he has a history of being very decisive in votes for the party, if we look back to health care. So if he's concerned about a lot of things, I mean, that has to be something to worry about if you're the White House.

KEITH: Yeah, he was decisive in sinking the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. So there are, like, eight or nine Republican senators who are either no or leaning no or no on the bill in its current form. All of that said, there's also a lot of optimism coming from Senate Republicans, many of whom believe this really is going to pass, that they do have momentum and that they agree on sort of the broad outlines and that the concerns people have are things that can be fixed.

GREENE: Tam, help me understand this - the president's meeting with both the majority and minority leadership later today. What is he expecting out of conversations with Democrats?

KEITH: Well, this is related to something else, which is that there is a ticking clock. December 8 the ongoing funding for the government runs out, and they need to come up with some other way of funding the government, whether that be sort of a temporary funding mechanism or something longer term. And there is a lot to work out there. So the president is meeting with Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell. The last time he met with them, they were facing a similar deadline and Republicans had a specific idea of what they want, and by the time it was over, President Trump had sided with the Democrats, calling them Chuck and Nancy.

GREENE: Right.

KEITH: So who knows what will happen this time, but Democrats have a lot that they want to get out of this, including possibly a fix for DACA. That's the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the so-called DREAMers program that the president is eliminating or putting it into. But the president also wants a fix for that.

GREENE: Amid all of this, it seems like the president always finds a way to create, maybe, distractions for himself, if we can call it that. He made some waves joking about Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren at an event honoring Navajo Code Talkers. What exactly happened?

KEITH: Yeah. So this was an Oval Office event honoring these World War II veterans. President Trump gets up to deliver his remarks after several folks have already delivered remarks, and he essentially says, it seems like you guys delivered everything. You've said everything that I wanted to say so, you know, I'm just going to go off script a little bit. And then while he was off script, he said this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You were here long before any of us were here. Although, we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.

KEITH: Now, that is a reference to Senator Elizabeth Warren. That is a name that President Trump has been using to insult her because during her 2012 Senate campaign, Warren was unable to document family lore indicating that she had Cherokee and Delaware Indian heritage. She yesterday said that this was a racial slur. The White House responded and said, no, it's not a racial slur. It was not meant in that way.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith talking about a lot happening in Washington today (laughter). Tam, a lot to cover. We really appreciate it. Thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.