Buoyed after speech, Trump, GOP huddle
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.”
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.