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JC Penney CEO says he's confident Congress understands retail's border tax concerns

J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison doesn't think a border adjustment tax is a foregone conclusion.

In a phone interview, Ellison told CNBC he was one of the retail CEOs that met with President Donald Trump and members of Congress last week, after being contacted by one of the retail associations looking to pull together retail CEOs from different retail formats.

Ellison said it was his understanding that Trump's economic team wanted to engage retail leaders to get their thoughts on trade and tax.

When it comes to the meeting itself, Ellison said "[Trump] listened, he asked questions. We posed questions back to him. He didn't give us an indication about where he stood on the proposals."

The retail group, which included the CEOs of Gap, Best Buy, Target , AutoZone, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Jo-Ann Fabric, also met with members of Congress while in Washington, including Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Kevin Brady.

"We spent time with senators and members of the house giving them our concerns about how it will be a regressive tax and how it will hurt those consumers who have lower incomes the most," Ellison continued. "They asked questions, there are lots of options on the table. This is not a foregone conclusion that this is legislation that will be passed."

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Marvin Ellison (L), CEO of J. C. Penney, as he meets with retail industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, February 15, 2017.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Marvin Ellison (L), CEO of J. C. Penney, as he meets with retail industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, February 15, 2017.

When asked where he thinks the lawmakers he met with stand on the border adjustment tax issue, Ellison said, "There's no straw poll that has been done. But we are pleased with the questions being asked and the high degree of concern about the impact on consumers. We feel very confident that we have enough members of Congress that understand our concerns."

Ellison joins a chorus of retailers that are in favor of tax reform, but aren't in support of the border adjustment tax proposal.

"We are hopeful that we can convince the members of the House that there's a better way to get to tax reform," he said.