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Trump's Tax Win: The Political Risks


At the White House this afternoon, President Trump celebrated the final passage of Republicans' massive tax legislation. He spoke surrounded by dozens of GOP lawmakers, basking in the glow of a major legislative victory.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have a whole list of accomplishments that the group behind me have done in terms of this administration and this Congress, but you've heard it before - records all over the place. And that will continue and then some because of what we did.

SHAPIRO: Among other things, the bill slashes the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. It also gives most Americans some kind of tax cut next year. So far, polls suggest the measure is unpopular. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: The president referred just then to records all over the place. How big of an accomplishment is this really for Trump?

LIASSON: It's very big. The bill might not have been the revenue-neutral middle-class cut he promised on the campaign trail, but it is a solid supply-side tax cut, his first major legislative victory. And with its passage, I think you can say the president has a pretty strong year of conservative accomplishments. Neil Gorsuch, as Mitch McConnell said at that Senate celebration today, cements a center-right majority on the Supreme Court for a decade, not to mention the record number of appellate and circuit court judges he's appointed. Cutting back Obama-era regulations, opening the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, driving a stake through the heart of Obamacare with the repeal of the individual mandate and this tax cut - that's a list of accomplishments.

SHAPIRO: This tax cut, as we said, is not popular. What does that mean for Republicans now?

LIASSON: It means Republicans have to sell it, and that's what the White House says the president will be doing. A White House official said today the president is a genius brander. He came up with the slogans tax cut for Christmas, miracle for the middle class and rocket fuel for the economy. That's what you're going to be hearing the president say as he goes around the country selling it. Republicans want people to know they got a tax cut. They want them to feel it. Here's Kevin Brady, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, sending his message to taxpayers.


KEVIN BRADY: In February, look to your paychecks. Hardworking Americans will see the result of the hard work of this president and this Congress to make this tax reform possible. It will show in your paychecks.

LIASSON: That's what Republicans want voters to feel. Democrats, on the other hand, think that this could be like the Affordable Care Act - a long-sought goal for Democrats passed on a partisan vote just like tax cuts were for the Republicans. It wasn't popular when they passed it, and there was a backlash to it. They lost their majority.

But unlike Obamacare, which didn't go into effect right away and gave a lot of time for critics to define it, in this case with the tax bill, people will know pretty soon if they've gotten a tax cut or a tax hike, and that's what Republicans are counting on to make this bill more popular. The question is, will the differences be big enough so voters will change their minds about the president and his party?

SHAPIRO: And is the answer to that question going to have a big impact on the outcome of the midterm elections next year?

LIASSON: It certainly will. We're going to find out a lot of things. We're going to find out whether the predictions about the impact of this bill - both good and bad - on the economy are true. Supply-side believers think it will trickle down, boost the economy and boost wages. Many economists - most economists think it will have a negligible effect.

But now that it's passed, Trump and his party own the economy. Since they've actually passed something, they can take credit for the good things that happened in the economy, and they're going to take the blame if the economy doesn't improve. We're also going to find out if Trump's low approval ratings will improve. He's in the mid-30s, which is amazing given he has such a good economy. And it suggests that it's his behavior and his divisiveness that are keeping down his numbers. And we'll see if this bill makes a difference.

SHAPIRO: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.