President Trump and Senate Republicans will huddle Tuesday on Capitol Hill in hopes of finding something that has eluded them all year: party unity.
Republicans are in broad agreement about the need to pass tax reform, but are struggling to get on the same page as they begin what is likely to be a grueling debate over legislation.
Leading voices in the GOP have said that success on a tax bill could decide whether Republicans sink or swim in next year’s elections, raising the stakes for everyone involved.
Still, Tuesday’s meeting is likely to be awkward.
Two senators who have ratcheted up their rhetoric against Trump in recent weeks, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), are likely to be in the room.
Corker recently compared the White House to an “adult day care center,” while McCain over the weekend criticized wealthy people who avoided the Vietnam War because “they had a bone spur.” Trump was granted one of his five deferments from the war because of a bone spur; McCain late Monday denied that the remark was aimed at the president.
Trump has in the past found it hard to resist getting into a verbal tussle when meeting his critics face-to-face.
The last time Trump sat in on the Senate Republican lunch, in 2016, it was rocky. Trump, who was then the party’s nominee for president, sparred with Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and criticized Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) and then-Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), whom he reportedly called a “loser.”
Republicans can ill afford to have Tuesday’s lunch turn into an intraparty squabble.
Any three Republican senators together could bring down Trump’s tax plan unless he convinces a few conservative Democrats to support the package. Republicans control 52 seats, so they need 50 votes to pass tax reform without Democratic support, as Vice President Pence would break a tie.
GOP senators want Trump to set aside his feuds and put the full weight of his office behind tax reform. Some lawmakers say he didn’t do a great job at selling the GOP health-care bill, contributing to its failure.