Buoyed af­ter speech, Trump, GOP hud­dle

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and John Wag­ner Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sought Wed­nes­day to build on the mo­men­tum of a speech that in­vig­o­rated fel­low Repub­li­cans as they fo­cused on the hard work of turn­ing his vi­sion into pol­icy.

Fol­low­ing his first joint ad­dress to Congress — in which Trump won high marks from Repub­li­cans for both his agenda and his mea­sured tone — he con­vened a lunch Wed­nes­day with lead­ing GOP law­mak­ers.

“We’re just here to start the process,” said Trump, who was flanked by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell as the meet­ing be­gan. “It be­gins as of now, and we think we’re go­ing to have tremen­dous suc­cess.”

Trump met later Wed­nes­day with mem­bers of his own team to talk more about how to ad­vance key parts of his sweep­ing agenda.

No Democrats were in­vited to Wed­nes­day’s lunch at the White House, which press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said was by de­sign.

“To be fac­tual here, at some point the peo­ple who set the agenda and the timetable to en­act his agenda are Repub­li­can,” Spicer told re­porters.

He said Trump would meet with con­gres­sional Democrats — who crit­i­cized him Wed­nes­day for not of­fer­ing con­crete plans — at some other point.

While Trump gar­nered en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause Tues­day from the Repub­li­can side of the aisle for calls to re­place for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law and re­tool the tax code, ma­jor dif­fer­ences re­main within the GOP on the specifics of how to move for­ward.

“I think he un­der­stands, as we do, the im­por­tance of get­ting those things done to set the tone for his en­tire first term,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, one of the luncheon par­tic­i­pants.

Cornyn said the meet­ing fo­cused more on how the two cham­bers of Congress and the White House will work to­gether than on im­me­di­ate con­sen­sus.

“We are get­ting or­ga­nized, get-

ting pre­pared,” he said. “The only way we’re go­ing to get this done is to work closely to­gether.”

Yet there ap­peared to be a long way to go be­fore Repub- li­cans can unite — par­ticu- larly on their top pri­or­ity: re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing the Obama health care law.

As Repub­li­cans cheered and Democrats sat silently Tues­day night, Trump de­clared: “We should help Amer­i­cans pur­chase their own cov­er­age, through the use of tax cred­its and ex­panded health sav­ings ac­counts — but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by the gov­ern­ment.” Those were com-

ments House GOP lead­ers in­ter­preted as an em­brace of their plan to re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act with a new sys­tem built around re­fund­able tax cred­its.

But con­ser­va­tives who have been re­belling against that plan, de­nounc­ing the cred­its as a costly new en­ti­tle­ment, dis­agreed. And they showed few signs of back­ing down Wed­nes­day, although Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., leader of a large group of House con­ser­va­tives, con­ceded that the re­fund­able tax cred­its likely will be in­cluded in the GOP lead­er­ship plan.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has joined Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Ken­tucky in declar- ing their op­po­si­tion to the leg­is­la­tion emerg­ing in the House, ac­cused the me­dia of “bend­ing over back­wards” to in­ter­pret Trump’s re­mark as a spe­cific leg­isla­tive pro­posal. Cruz in­sisted that Congress should be­gin by pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that sim­ply re­peals so-called Oba­macare.

“That should be on the (Se­nate) floor. And from there we should build up, and we should fo­cus on ar­eas of con­sen­sus,” Cruz said. “We should not fo­cus on ideas that di­vide us and pull us apart.”

The stance adopted by Cruz, Lee and Paul pro­voked fa­mil­iar back­bit­ing from other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who fear that the rebels could block ac­tion.

“We do have some prob­lems with two or three peo­ple on our side that make it so if this be­comes a par­ti­san vote we won’t have the votes,” said Sen. Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah. “So yeah, it’s a prob­lem, it’s a big prob­lem.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, fo­cused on the up­side of Trump’s gen­er­ally well-re­ceived speech. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, mak­ing a tour of TV and ra­dio news shows, said the re­cep­tion for Trump gave him “great con­fi­dence that the agenda that the pres­i­dent ar­tic­u­lated last night is the right agenda for Amer­ica.”

AL DRAGO / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, flanked by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky (left) and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin, pre­sides Wed­nes­day at a lunch meet­ing with con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in the Roo­sevelt Room of the White House to dis­cuss leg­isla­tive strat­egy go­ing for­ward.

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