Trump gives GOP leaders rallying cry, roadmap for change

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, March 1, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump gave Republican congressional leaders a rallying cry and even a roadmap as they try to push through a sweeping and divisive agenda on health care, taxes and more.

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump said largely what GOP leaders were hoping to hear Tuesday night, staying on-message and talking in optimistic tones, even weighing in at one point to settle a brewing dispute over how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday morning that Trump showed Congress and the nation his “broad shoulders, big heart, reaching out, focusing on the future.” Pence spoke on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

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House Speaker Paul Ryan declared the speech a “home run,” pointing to Trump’s embrace for the first time of tax credits — a central element in the Republican plan to replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Those tax credits have sparked a fierce conservative backlash in recent days, imperiling GOP efforts to make good on the party’s long-stated promise to get rid of “Obamacare” and put something better in its place. Ahead of the speech congressional Republicans had been unsure how far Trump would go in backing their plan, with some pleading openly with him to do so, and many were elated at what they heard.

“We should help Americans purchase their own coverage, through the use of tax credits and expanded health savings accounts — but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by the government,” Trump said, as Republicans cheered and Democrats sat silently in their seats.

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s endorsement of refundable tax credits will be enough to tame rebellious conservatives in the House and Senate who have criticized them as a costly new entitlement. The initial response from one key conservative group, the Freedom Caucus in the House, was full of praise for Trump’s speech without mentioning the divisions over tax credits.

“We were pleased the president reaffirmed his commitment to fully repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered, market-driven policy. We share his vision,” the group said.

Trump also addressed taxes, another major issue that is dividing Congress. After weeks of sending mixed signals, he provided hope to House Republican leaders pushing a tax overhaul that would tax imports but not exports. But he stopped short of explicitly endorsing the proposal.