Trump, McConnell All Smiles, All the Time

President, majority leader say they are on the same page, despite tension

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk to reporters in the Rose Garden following a lunch meeting at the White House on Monday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk to reporters in the Rose Garden following a lunch meeting at the White House on Monday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Posted October 16, 2017 at 4:58pm

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is ready to cancel Christmas recess to get a tax bill done, but President Donald Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled the effort could slip into next year.

Trump on Monday called his relationship with McConnell “very good” amid reports of tension between the two leaders. During a remarkable and rowdy midday joint press conference in the Rose Garden, Trump declared he and McConnell “are probably now … closer than ever before.

“The relationship is very good,” Trump said. “We’re fighting for the same thing. We’re fighting for lower taxes, a big tax cut, the biggest tax cuts in the history of our nation. We’re fighting for tax reform as part of that.”

Regarding that still developing tax bill, the president said of the majority leader: “This man is going to get it done.”

The president and majority leader have in recent weeks expressed differing views about when the House and Senate must finish their respective tax bills, hammer out the differences and deliver a final product to Trump to sign into law. Trump has been clear he wants to sign a bill before 2017 ends; McConnell has sounded willing to take more time if it’s required.

On Monday, it was Trump who gave ground.

[VIDEO: Trump on McConnell: We’re ‘Closer Than Ever Before’]

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McConnell said the GOP goal is to pass a tax bill this calendar year, but he and Trump made clear they would not be opposed to allowing it to slide into 2018 if additional weeks or months were needed to secure the necessary votes.

They noted other presidents signed signature bills early in their second years in office. But their willingness to push past the holiday season puts them at odds with Ryan.

“We’re going to keep people here for Christmas if we have to,” Ryan said Friday at a forum hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation. “I don’t care. We have to get this done.”

Then on Monday the Wisconsin Republican laid out his expected timeline for getting a tax bill out his chamber.

“By early November we’ll get it out of the House,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said on WTMJ.

Ryan said the GOP’s tax framework is realistic, that they have run the numbers and wouldn’t have put out the promised rate cuts, etc. that they did if they couldn’t get there.

The speaker also said the tax measure would be more “direct and streamlined” under the fast-track budget reconciliation process than what happened to the GOP’s unsuccessful health care efforts using reconciliation.

“You could only do about a half of what we wanted to do on health care in that reconciliation bill,” the speaker said. “That’s not how tax is. You can put the entire tax code overhaul in one vote, in one bill.”

Much of the White House press corps was already assembled in the briefing room for a scheduled session with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday before being hustled to the Rose Garden for the joint Trump-McConnell presser.

Reporters shouted at Trump during the nearly half-hour joint press conference, trying to get his attention and jockeying for position. McConnell stood to the president’s left.

McConnell mostly demurred to Trump, as the president first falsely accused former President Barack Obama of never writing or calling the family members of fallen U.S. military troops. Obama, like other former commanders in chief, did so throughout his presidency.

The president also defended his administration’s response to the Puerto Rico crisis, dared Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2020, and announced the United States would remain neutral in fighting between Iraqi government and Kurdish forces. 

The president told reporters he does not intend to fire Robert S. Mueller, the former FBI director now leading the Justice Department probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 electiuon — including possible ties between Moscow and Trump’s campaign. But the president says he thinks it is time for Mueller to start wrapping things up, again saying there was “absolutely no collusion” with the Kremlin.

Just a few hours earlier at a meeting with this Cabinet, Trump revealed his administration could be about to throw another issue on Congress’ fast-growing to-do list, accusing the pharmaceutical industry of price gouging and saying welfare recipients were gaming the system. 

He said he and his Cabinet are “looking very very strongly therefore at welfare reform” because some recipients are taking advantage of federal assistance.

The president also said drug manufacturers are “getting away with murder” by over-charging people for their products.

“Prescription drug prices are out of control,” he said, according to a pool report, adding that medicines cost more here than in other countries. “Meaning, as usual, the world is taking advantage of the United States,” a common Trump grievance.

Later in the Rose Garden, Trump promised a “major announcement” as soon as next week on drug prices and the opioid crisis.

The two GOP leaders also were asked about the party’s strategy for the 2018 midterm elections.

McConnell said the Republican approach will be to support incumbents and candidates who can win general election races.

That worked in 2014 and 2016, and the party won’t change that approach just because former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is pushing conservative candidates and is in a self-described “war” with McConnell.

One of those Bannon-preferred conservatives is Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore. Trump revealed he plans to meet with the former judge, who has harshly criticized McConnell, next week.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this story.