Sept. 13, 2017

Gottheimer talked taxes, immigration with Trump in bipartisan White House meeting

Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday afternoon to discuss elements of what the Republican administration says is one of the most ambitious legislative agendas in years.

Having failed to see through his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by partnering with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump is turning to Democrats for help as he seeks what has so far been an elusive first legislative victory for a man who styles himself as a master dealmaker.

Trump convened Wednesday’s meeting in the Cabinet Room with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss tax reform, infrastructure and immigration — major issues that could prove as politically thorny as reforming the nation’s health care.

But Gottheimer said in an interview after the meeting that Trump seems to have learned a lesson from the two failed attempts to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s signature health law, commonly called Obamacare.

“The biggest takeaway, which I think was quite important, was that bipartisanship is a much better approach to these challenges than doing it in a partisan way, as with health care,” said Gottheimer, who is co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. And an advantage of working with both sides, Gottheimer said, is that “the solutions that we come up with would be longer-term.”

Trump said Wednesday that while he still plans “to do something very, very powerful with respect to Obamacare,” his priorities have shifted. Tax reform, tax cuts and immigration reform are now the imperative. Trump, according to pool reports of Wednesday’s meeting, has also been in discussions with political leaders, including Gov. Chris Christie, to improve the region’s infrastructure.

Gottheimer, a first-term congressman from Wyckoff, said Trump told him it’s “critically important” to pursue infrastructure and tax reform together, and asked for his caucus to assemble a working group on those two issues.

Gottheimer’s meeting with Trump comes on the heels of a surprise deal the president negotiated with Democrats — bypassing Republican leaders, who control both chambers of Congress — on a hurricane aid package that increases the debt limit and finances the government until mid-December. And it preceded a scheduled dinner with the two Democratic minority leaders, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.

“More and more we’re trying to work things out together. It’s a positive thing. It’s good for the Republicans and it’s good for the Democrats. And this group knows that very well,” said Trump, a former Democrat. “When we set aside our differences — and it is amazing how little our differences are — we put our country and we put the citizens of our country first. And that’s what this is all about.”

Trump said a tax reform plan is being drafted that would focus on the middle class and that “the rich will not be gaining at all with this plan.” Taxes for the wealthy, he said, will be “pretty much where they are” but “if they have to go higher, they’ll go higher.”

It remains to be seen whether tax reform will address property taxes. The administration has proposed eliminating a deduction for state and local property taxes because it said it mostly benefits the wealthy and forces states with lower taxes to subsidize higher-cost states such as New Jersey, New York and California. But that deduction also provides crucial relief to homeowners in New Jersey, which has the highest property taxes in the country.

Gottheimer said he “raised the importance” of the deduction with Trump on Wednesday.

“We need to find solutions that will actually bring taxes down,” Gottheimer said he told the president. “He said, ‘Yeah, it’s a tough issue.’ I made the case. We will see where it goes when it gets into specifics.”