President Donald Trump traveled to Missouri on Wednesday of last week (Nov. 29) to whip up support for the Republican tax plan working its way through Congress — and in the process put himself squarely into the state’s heated 2018 U.S. Senate race.
In a speech that appeared to be a mix of prepared remarks and ad libs, Trump several times expressed his support for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in the state’s Republican Senate primary next year.
At least three other Republicans are seeking the nomination, including one who calls himself the “MAGA” candidate, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Nonetheless, Trump, in introducing local GOP officials on the hand for the event, called Hawley “our next senator.” Later in the speech, he vowed: “Josh, when you’re ready, you have my word, I’m going to come here and campaign for you.”
In a speech to about 1,000 invited supporters at the St. Charles Convention Center, Trump hammered at the message that the Republican tax plan is the best way to offer relief to the American people.
He hearkened back to St. Charles’ past as a frontier city, saying America could rediscover the pioneer spirit, and he praised the city’s Main Street corridor. “Just as it’s always been, Main Street is the heart of our economy,” he said, asserting that tax cuts would stimulate the nation’s economy.
Trump’s comments on Missouri’s U.S. Senate race are likely to further cement Hawley’s status as front-runner for the Republican nomination. The eventual nominee will challenge incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., as she seek her third term next November.
One of Hawley’s Republican challengers for the Senate nomination, former Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen, declared Trump’s comments “not the end of the world.”
“Trump endorsed Luther Strange in Alabama” over Roy Moore in that state’s Republican Senate primary this year, “and we saw how that worked out,” Petersen said.
Fellow GOP candidate Courtland Sykes, an enthusiastic Trump supporter who calls himself the “MAGA candidate,” issued a statement saying: “I remain 100 percent behind the president … . The president is being badly advised.” Retired Air Force pilot Tony Monetti also has said he’s running.
McCaskill is widely considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate next year. Trump told the audience that she “has done you an incredible disservice” by opposing the Republican tax measure so far.
McCaskill has said she favors tax reform but doesn’t agree with the Republican plan’s approach. She reiterated that stance Wednesday in a statement: “This tax plan doesn’t live up to the commitment I got from President Trump, when he told me he wouldn’t support tax reform that benefited the very rich at the expense of the little guy.”
Trump repeatedly maintained on Wednesday that the tax plan was mainly a benefit for the working class and that it would hurt the rich.
“Our focus is on helping folks who work in the mail rooms and the machine shops of America, the plumbers, the carpenters, the cops, the teachers, the truck drivers,” Trump told the enthusiastic crowd.
At another point, Trump, America’s first billionaire president, predicted: “This is going to cost me a fortune.”
That’s disputed by most experts, including those who analyze fiscal issues for Congress. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office recently concluded that the plan as currently envisioned would ultimately translate into a tax increase for most families earning under $75,000 annually, while adding some $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit.
The tax plan, which still consists of separate House and Senate plans that would need to be reconciled, includes major reductions in the corporate tax rate and individual tax rates, and dramatically increases the standard deduction that many taxpayers use instead of itemizing individual deductions.
Republicans said that in addition to those benefits, it would improve the economy by loosening up business capital for reinvestment and job creation.
“These massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel ... for the American economy,” Trump said.
Critics point out that the plan gives permanent tax benefits to businesses and wealthy taxpayers, while the tax cuts for middle and lower incomes will expire within a few years. The plan also has drawn fire for proposing to take away current tax exemptions on student loan interest, graduate student tuition benefits, family major medical expenses, state and local income tax bills and other areas that would hit middle- and lower-class taxpayers.
One big advantage for the wealthiest taxpayers, including Trump, would be a loosening of the estate tax, which would allow millions of dollars to pass down through generations within those families with lower taxes. Trump derided the estate tax as a “death tax” and pressed the need to get rid of it.
“I see people right here, they’re obviously very rich and they love their children,” said Trump, motioning toward the audience. “They love their children, they’re very rich, they want to pass on what they have.”
When he arrived Wednesday at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Trump was greeted by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and Hawley. The president walked with Greitens toward a small crowd of well-wishers. For several minutes, Trump spoke with members of the crowd, surrounded by Secret Service agents and aides. He waved, pumped his fist, clapped and got in a waiting limousine for the trip to St. Charles.
Greitens and Hawley were among about 100 people on the tarmac to welcome the president, as was St. Charles Mayor Sally Faith — who received a presidential shout-out at the beginning of Trump’s address.
“I have a lot of faith in Faith — Sally Faith,” Trump said.
More than 100 protesters began gathering outside the center hours before the scheduled speech, but police had blocked off the streets close to the building. Police officers, some in riot gear, were patrolling.
Some protesters were chanting “Kill that bill!” referring to the tax overhaul measure; others held signs calling Trump a “liar.”
A somewhat smaller group of pro-Trump demonstrators, some holding signs saying “Make America Great, Fix the Rate,” stood across the street from protesters.
Trump traveled with several administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Linda McMahon, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was invited but elected to stay in Washington to work on the tax cut legislation. All six of Missouri’s Republican House members were aboard Air Force One to attend the speech.
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH