Democrats Target Trump-Buyer’s Remorse in 2018

The party hopes to lure back working-class voters by criticizing the president’s health care and tax plans.

President Trump waves as he walks off stage after signing an Energy Independence Executive Order on Tuesday.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Ally Mutnick
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Ally Mutnick
March 29, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

House Demo­crats ap­pear to have found a cam­paign mes­sage more than a year and a half be­fore the midterms: Pres­id­ent Trump turned his back on the work­ing-class voters who sent him to the White House.

As Re­pub­lic­ans’ trade­mark cam­paign prom­ise to re­peal Obama­care im­ploded, top House Demo­crats de­scribed the fumble not as a sil­ver bul­let for 2018 but the be­gin­ning of two years of GOP policies that will pri­or­it­ize the wealthy at the ex­pense of a rur­al, blue-col­lar elect­or­ate that helped Re­pub­lic­ans win total con­trol of Wash­ing­ton.

With tax re­form up next, Demo­crats see the po­ten­tial for an­oth­er ma­jor data point to add to their ar­gu­ment.

“If he con­tin­ues along those lines and does tax breaks for his bud­dies and his cronies and the people like he has sit­ting around his Cab­in­et, that’s go­ing to be a prob­lem in a dis­trict like mine,” said Rep. Cheri Bus­tos of Illinois, who co­chairs the Demo­crat­ic Policy and Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mit­tee and who holds a rur­al seat car­ried by Trump. “We don’t have a whole lot of mil­lion­aires and I don’t think we have any bil­lion­aires.”

Rep. Denny Heck of Wash­ing­ton, who heads re­cruit­ment for the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, called the health care bill “a $600 bil­lion tax cut for the very wealth­i­est of Amer­ic­ans” and warned that Re­pub­lic­ans will fail again if their tax-code-re­form ef­forts end up help­ing the rich “at the ex­pense of vul­ner­able people.”

“If they keep try­ing to do things that Amer­ica doesn’t want, then they’ll be held ac­count­able—very straight­for­ward,” Heck said.

At a press con­fer­ence Tues­day morn­ing at their na­tion­al party headquar­ters, House Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship blas­ted Trump and House Re­pub­lic­ans as char­lat­ans for cam­paign­ing on plans to boost blue-col­lar voters, then de­clin­ing to put forth ma­jor le­gis­la­tion to be­ne­fit them in the first 67 days.

They con­tras­ted the stim­u­lus pack­age and Lilly Led­bet­ter Fair Pay Act that were passed in the first month of a Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled gov­ern­ment in 2009 to the mil­lions of work­ing fam­il­ies who could be left un­in­sured un­der the GOP’s health plan.

Mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans in af­flu­ent, sub­urb­an swing seats made head­lines as they aban­doned the re­peal. But Demo­crats also noted it would have been es­pe­cially det­ri­ment­al to rur­al con­stitu­en­cies. Dis­tricts like those held by Re­pub­lic­an Reps. Sean Duffy of Wis­con­sin and Bruce Poli­quin of Maine, which are more than 70 per­cent rur­al and both backed Trump hand­ily, would have lost more in tax cred­its than neigh­bor­ing urb­an dis­tricts.

“At some point they’re go­ing to start fig­ur­ing out—’Wait a minute, this was just a whole bunch of cam­paign hype out there,’” Demo­crat­ic Rep. Ron Kind said, cit­ing the “dev­ast­at­ing” im­pact that both the Obama­care re­peal and Trump’s budget would have on his rur­al Wis­con­sin dis­trict, which the pres­id­ent won.

Demo­crats have already star­ted mak­ing that case to midterm voters. The Caucus policy com­mit­tee has hit Trump’s budget for its pro­posed cuts to pro­grams that provide rur­al job-train­ing and in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing. The DCCC launched a five-fig­ure di­git­al ad cam­paign blast­ing Re­pub­lic­ans who voted the health care bill out of com­mit­tee, and it re­leased a poll con­duc­ted this month of 1,000 voters in 52 battle­ground dis­tricts that found 54 per­cent op­posed to the GOP plan and only 30 per­cent in fa­vor.

Still, it’s not clear if Trump and House Re­pub­lic­ans are on the same page when it comes to tax re­form. On the cam­paign trail, the pres­id­ent em­phas­ized help for the middle and work­ing classes, but the con­gres­sion­al plan is ex­pec­ted to bring less re­lief to those groups.

Rep. Linda Sánchez of Cali­for­nia, one of six Demo­crats on the tax policy sub­com­mit­tee, said House Re­pub­lic­ans are craft­ing their bill in secrecy, leav­ing her skep­tic­al that the GOP plans to take tax re­form in a dir­ec­tion that would be­ne­fit work­ing fam­il­ies.

“I have been beg­ging our chair­man. I have been beg­ging our Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues to try to in­vite us in on that con­ver­sa­tion,” said Sanc­hez, the vice chair­wo­man of the House Demo­crat­ic Caucus.

Re­pub­lic­ans in­sisted there is still time to chal­lenge a nar­rat­ive that their policies are at odds with the pop­u­list bloc that elec­ted them. House Rules Chair Pete Ses­sions of Texas said Demo­crats have to wait un­til next Oc­to­ber be­fore writ­ing the book on GOP pri­or­it­ies.

Trump’s pro­posed tril­lion-dol­lar in­fra­struc­ture plan could provide a le­gis­lat­ive vic­tory, an eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus, and a chance to work with Demo­crats in one hit. And House GOP lead­er­ship an­nounced Tues­day its in­tent to keep work­ing on an Obama­care-re­peal plan.

“I don’t think in any way this is an in­dic­a­tion that we’re not go­ing to rally back with a good plan that would be good for not only the middle class but every single per­son that needs a bet­ter health care sys­tem,” said Ses­sions, a former two-term chair of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee.

From the start, Demo­crats have said they have to run on more than an anti-Trump plat­form even as con­tro­ver­sial le­gis­lat­ive plans take shape. The party has plenty to of­fer work­ing-class Amer­ic­ans, Demo­crats said, they just have to work harder to make sure voters are aware.

Bus­tos poin­ted to le­gis­la­tion she’s worked on to boost ex­port cen­ters for small busi­nesses and use Amer­ic­an steel in wa­ter-in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects.

“Go on the back of a pickup truck on the peri­met­er of a corn field and just sit down and talk about what we are do­ing,” she sug­ges­ted. “Let people know that not only have we not for­got­ten them, but we are fight­ing for them.”

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