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Love or hate him, Trump offers rare chance to change Washington, Koch donors say

President Donald Trump.
Cheriss May | NurPhoto | Getty Images
President Donald Trump.

To Al Hartman, President Trump is a heaven-sent leader, expertly carrying out a conservative agenda to roll back regulations and limit the size and scope of government.

"He's working right out of the Heritage playbook," said Hartman, a Houston real-estate executive, referring to the conservative Washington think tank. "God gave us one more chance by allowing him to be in office."

To Liz Wright of Denver, Trump is an imperfect vehicle for implementing the small-government policies she seeks. "He doesn't have a consistent governing philosophy," said Wright, who voted for Libertarian presidential contender Gary Johnson last November.

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Yet, Wright and Hartman, both donors to the conservative policy and political network tied to billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, view Trump's presidency and the Republican majority in the Congress as their best hope of passing an overhaul of the tax code, repealing the Affordable Care Act and enacting other priorities dear to the network's wealthy conservatives.

"We have maybe 10 months, a rare opportunity in at least a decade, to shrink the influence of the government in the economy," said Wright's husband, Chris. But with a president who seems unable to deliver a "clear, consistent from the top" and a slender 52-48 majority in the Senate, "we are threading the needle" on seeing that goal achieved, he said.

As Wright and some 400 Koch-aligned donors wrapped up a three-day seminar and strategy retreat here, the network pledged to spend unprecedented amounts to advance their policy and political agenda and girded for fresh fights over health care and tax cuts.

The network leaders are lobbying hard to bury a proposal pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would impose a border tax on imports, which Koch says would result on higher prices on consumer goods.

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus and one of 18 elected officials who attended the private Koch conclave, told reporters that the debate within the GOP over the border tax is jeopardizing efforts to pass a tax overhaul this year.

Network officials also are withholding support for the health care bill slated for a Senate vote this week, saying it stops short of the goal of doing away with the Affordable Care Act. Koch officials say they are lobbying behind the scenes to change it.

Doug Deason, a top Republican donor from Dallas, said he and about "eight or 10" other Dallas-area political contributors have opted to ignore contribution requests from Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., until the chamber moves to pass a tax overhaul and fully repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"We want to send a message (about) how important this is," he said.

He did concede, however, that even if Senate Republicans failed to achieve those objectives, he would open his checkbook again next year to save the party's hold on the chamber.

Deason, the son of IT billionaire Darwin Deason, generally praised Trump's moves in Washington, most effusively for the nomination of solidly conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Any Trump accomplishment beyond the Gorsuch confirmation "is gravy," Deason said. "He picked Gorsuch. He can go play golf for the rest of his term."