Haley Byrd/Independent Journal Review
Note: This article contains coarse language that may offend some readers.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are coming to a common conclusion: when lawmakers return to work in September, they are ready to go it alone advancing their agenda and no longer want much interference from the White House.
In an interview with Independent Journal Review Thursday, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, criticized President Donald Trump's tepid response to violence from racists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists during protests in Charlottesville last weekend.
Curbelo said Congress wouldn't shy away from splitting with Trump on areas of disagreement. He pointed to the recent overwhelming passage of a bill that imposed strict sanctions on Russia and established greater congressional oversight powers to check presidential attempts to soften the sanctions. Trump didn't fully support the bill and signed it with reluctance.
“If the president continues down this path, you’re going to see Congress increasingly imposing its will,” Curbelo predicted.
“It’s up to the president and the White House if they want to continue exacerbating these divisions,” Curbelo said of the deteriorating relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill Republicans. “It’s going to be much harder to get something done.”
Trump has become increasingly toxic after his widely criticized comments on last weekend's Charlottesville protests and ongoing intraparty feuds, according to numerous Republican Hill staffers, some of whom told Independent Journal Review their best bet to pass agenda items like tax reform depends on Trump staying out of the way.
A senior Senate GOP aide told IJR on Wednesday the president has lost the trust of Republican lawmakers after a painful seven months.
“Bottom line: Republicans know they can't rely on the president for help with the agenda because he has no political capital on either side and seems wholly unwilling to invest the time necessary to actually understand policy,” the aide said.
After Trump's overt attempts to force Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign last month and his more recent attacks on Republican senators and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for not passing an unpopular health care bill before the August recess, a dam broke. Republican legislators are publicly splitting with the White House.
The president's bait-and-switch on Tuesday when it came to condemning white supremacists was the final straw.
“It's just frustrating to be constantly reacting to his sh*t,” a GOP Senate aide explained.
And growing discord between the White House and Capitol Hill won't prove helpful when lawmakers return in September with a lengthy to-do list.
“The president has torched whatever political capital or moral authority he ever had,” a GOP aide told IJR. “He is uniquely incapable of political leadership. If we get tax reform done, it won't be with his help. It'll be in spite of him and his vortex of incompetence and destruction.”
“The more distracted [Trump] is tweeting about Mika [Brzezinski] or his historic victory or the 4 million illegal votes, the better the odds are that we get tax reform. If he gets interested in tax reform, it will probably die just like everything else he touches,” he added.
Republican leaders remain insistent they will pass comprehensive, permanent tax reform before the end of the year.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) delivered a speech at the Reagan Ranch to promote the effort Wednesday, but few lawmakers and staffers have wholehearted faith in a positive outcome.
Optimistic Republicans argue tax reform can't prove more contentious than the battle over health care was, and they know they need to post a win to show to voters before the 2018 midterm elections.
“We're long overdue for another update,” Brady said in his speech. "Pro-growth tax reform is a priority. After years of hearings and meetings and listening to people across this country, we look forward to tackling this in the fall.”
It's still a long shot: the tax code hasn't been reformed since 1986, and while many lawmakers agree on a push to slash the corporate tax rate significantly, they don't agree on how to pay for it.
What's more, Brady's tax reform plan has become increasingly vague, leaving more work for members of Congress in resolving sticky policy questions when they return from their monthlong recess in September.
Tax Analysts, a nonpartisan organization founded in 1970 that holds conferences and regularly publishes in-depth articles about tax policy, reported last week that a Deloitte poll of more than 3,100 Americans working in tax, finance, and business found that only 2.4 percent of respondents were “very confident” a tax reform bill will pass by the end of the year, whereas 49.1 percent of respondents were doubtful.
With important housekeeping duties like raising the debt ceiling and passing funding bills to keep the government running in September already making lawmakers anxious, Republicans aren't sure they'll have enough time to juggle tax reform as well.
But in the meantime, Republicans in Congress are trying to carry on without getting caught up in the White House's woes.
“It's like you have a problem co-worker or even a problem boss,” another Senate GOP aide told IJR, “you don't get along, you don't like each other, but you have to get sh*t done. You just try to make it work.”
This article was updated to include comments from Rep. Carlos Curbelo after publication.