Trump is buttering up exactly the wrong senator if he wants to pass tax reform

Tara Golshan
President Donald Trump acknowledges US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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President Donald Trump spent the weekend with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) playing golf, in another chapter of a reportedly growing friendship between the two.

"Sen. Rand Paul considers President Trump a personal friend; they had a great time playing today," Paul's spokesperson Sergio Gor told reporters after the senator's golf outing with the president.

The two have become something of an odd couple in Washington — a far cry from the time Trump tweeted that Paul was "truly weird" and a "spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain," and when Paul called Trump an "orange-faced windbag."

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Trump is buttering up exactly the wrong senator if he wants to pass tax reform

Last week, Paul stood behind the president as he signed an executive health care orderthat would dramatically undermine the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces. He told CNN's Jake Tapper that Trump's order is "creating something that is freedom."

Paul, a Tea Party firebrand from Kentucky, is known among congressional Republicans for his affinity for giving Republican leadership a hard time — which might be why Trump has taken a liking to him. And Paul reportedly listens to Trump's rambling phone calls.

"The president never loses, didn't you know?" Paul told reporters over the weekend, schmoozing about Trump's golfing talents. "The president and his partner beat myself and my partner by three holes. He's a little better golfer than I am, admittedly, but we had a good time."

If Paul is right about his game, Trump seems to be a better golfer than he is a legislator. He hasn't notched a single Republican-led legislative win this year. The Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort flopped. Tax reform, the GOP's next major agenda item, already looks mired in difficult negotiations.

Paul is far from a helping hand on Capitol Hill. Rather, he's repeatedly exacerbated many of the divides within the Republicans Party — and is signaling he will do the same on tax reform.

Rand Paul isn't the team player Trump needs

As Trump traveled around the country selling the Republican tax reform framework, Paul was tweeting about its faults.

Trump billed the Republican tax reform framework as the beginnings of a "middle class miracle" at a late-September tax-focused speech in Indiana. One week later, Paul tweeted out a report from the Tax Policy Center claiming the Republican plan would negatively impact the middle class.

"I hope the final details are better than this," Paul said, hinting some early opposition to the Republican-led tax reform effort.

@RandPaul: This is a GOP tax plan? Possibly 30% of middle class gets a tax hike? I hope the final details are better than this. http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/publications/preliminary-analysis-unified-framework/full …

Paul's warning appears to have gotten back to Trump, who reportedly became angered when he learned the Republican tax plan, which proposes collapsing the individual tax rates into three tax brackets instead of the current seven, would hurt some middle-class Americans. "We'll be adjusting," Trump said in response, according to Bloomberg.

But Paul is already positioning himself at the extreme of any possible adjustments. He came out of his golf outing signaling that the Republicans' proposed 20 percent federal corporate tax rate (already a substantial cut from the current 35 percent) is too high.

"Everybody's lowering their corporate tax," Paul told reporters after golfing with Trump. "Some are worried, 'Oh, if we do a 20 percent corporate tax' — my goodness, Ireland is at 12 [percent], thinking about going to 8. You've got Canada at 15. We really, you know, need to do it. And I think [Trump] wants it to be as big and bold as possible."

Any lower than 20 percent looks politically unrealistic for Republicans, who are already struggling to find ways to pay for their massive cuts to tax rates.

These are early signs that Trump's newfound buddy in the Senate might not be a team player on tax reform.

It's not surprising from Paul. Only last month, he stood firmly against the Republicans' last-ditch attempt to repeal Obamacare — a move that ultimately tanked the whole effort.

Paul likes to make noise in the Senate and has a habit of being a thorn in his fellow Kentuckian Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's side. That might curry favor with Trump — who has grown disenchanted with GOP leadership for now — but certainly won't help with the wins Trump really needs.

Commentary by Tara Golshan, a writer covering policy and politics at Vox. Follow her on Twitter @t_golshan.

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