Politics

‘Tax Week’ Starts With a Wacky Day at White House

‘Pocahontas’ remark, CFPB move threaten to overshadow tax message

Republicans want to talk about taxes this week, but other topics are competing for attention. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Tax Week” kicked off with another wacky day at the Trump White House.

A relatively quiet morning at the executive mansion turned into a chaotic afternoon Monday, with the White House again going on the defensive just as President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers attempt to pass major legislation.

A routine day — with White House officials trying to focus on a Senate GOP tax bill scheduled for a floor vote later this week — ended with the president and his administration stepping on their own message.

Things were still on message around midday when several members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee emerged onto the West Wing driveway to address reporters following a working lunch with the president.

Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch described the meeting with Trump as “interesting,” adding it focused on “economics” and “how we pull this country out of the mess that it’s in.

Republicans are intent on doing so “the right way,” the Utah Republican said. “We intend to turn this mess around.”

Finance Committee member Patrick J. Toomey said “there is growing momentum” for the GOP tax proposal. “The president is eagerly looking forward to signing it,” the Pennsylvania Republican said. On a possible House-Senate conference panel’s odds of coming up with a passable tax overhaul compromise, Hatch said he has never found himself unable to with House colleagues.

Hatch on Tax Bill Differences With House: ‘We’re Willing to Work Together’

Their brief appearance was standard cheerleading for public figures. 

Then Trump went before the cameras with a group of Navajo code talkers. 

"You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump told the Marine Corps veterans during an Oval Office event. “Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas.’

Watch: Trump Breaks Out ‘Pocahontas’ Nickname for Warren During Native American Event

Though Trump has been slammed by Native American groups for using the term when referring Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, he has done so twice this month alone.

Shortly after the quip went viral and took over cable news coverage, the White House briefing — initially scheduled for 2 p.m. — was delayed for the third time, to 3:15 p.m.

Off topic

Trump’s comment became one of the focal points of reporters’ questions once Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders entered the briefing room.

“I think that Sen. Warren was very offensive when she lied about something to advance her career,” Sanders said at one point. (Warren has claimed Cherokee and Delaware Indian ancestry, but has been criticized for not providing documentation.)

Sanders’ opening remarks focused on the tax bill. Her opening comments typically focus on the White House’s preferred message of the day.

Also overshadowing that message, however, was Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney starting a second job Monday as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English also claims to hold the acting director role after being promoted last week by outgoing Director Richard Cordray; she has filed a lawsuit to block Mulvaney from taking over.

So as both Mulvaney and English claimed the acting director mantle, the White House weighed in, another non-tax related item.

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Mulvaney “has taken charge” at the bureau and received the “full cooperation” of the CFPB staff, said Sanders, who described Trump’s budget chief as fully running the agency.

Not to be forgotten, the increasingly ugly special Senate election in Alabama continued to loom not only over the White House but also all of Washington. Its outcome will affect the legislative agenda once the race is settled Dec. 12.

As he was departing the White House last Tuesday for his Thanksgiving weekend at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida, Trump did not rule out traveling to Alabama to campaign on Republican Roy Moore’s behalf. He also defended Moore, saying the GOP candidate gives a “total denial” to sexual assault and misconduct charges from several woman, adding the allegations are four decades old.

The White House was forced to address the matter Monday, with Sanders saying Trump has “no plans” to campaign for Moore.

Still, the president continues to make clear his distaste for the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, saying, among other things on Twitter over the weekend: “Liberal Jones would be BAD!”

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