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Varied Republican Response To Charlottesville Raises Questions On Legislative Ability


Republicans in Congress wanted to spend this summer talking about taxes. That's the reason a group of senior House Republicans gathered in California this week. But President Trump's response to the white nationalist protest in Charlottesville has drowned out that conversation. Here's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Before any hard battle, it's common to seek a little spiritual guidance. So ahead of the fight this fall to overhaul the entire tax code, a group of Republicans traveled here, to the ranch of former President Ronald Reagan near Santa Barbara. Where better to make big promises on taxes than here, where Reagan signed a major tax cut into law? Here's Texas Congressman Kevin Brady.


KEVIN BRADY: And we are focused on and moving forward legislation this year, bold legislation to reduce taxes on every American and grow jobs and paychecks nationwide.

DAVIS: Brady will write the house tax bill that's expected out in September. Republicans want it to be the most ambitious tax bill signed into law since the Reagan-era tax cuts a generation ago. And their allies in the business community do, too. It's why outside groups like American Action Network are spending millions this August to air ads across the country like this one.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thousands of jobs like mine are lost to places like China. So when I see Congress working to cut taxes for working families and bring jobs back, I know how that matters.

DAVIS: But this is not the conversation dominating the country or even here at this tax event. Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo has been a frequent critic of President Trump. And like most congressional Republicans, he took issue with Trump's ambiguity in denouncing white supremacists. This is his take on the president's response to Charlottesville.


CARLOS CURBELO: I view it as a low point - lowest point yet and hopefully a turning point in some way.

DAVIS: Brady is more charitable, but he concedes it's not helping when his message is getting drowned out.

BRADY: I wish every segment and every discussion was about tax reform. You know, I would love that conversation to dominate the news. I still think the president has the ability to refocus on tax reform. He's all-in on it. He's natural about it. He gets the importance to jobs.

DAVIS: What Republicans say they need to focus on now is making their case to the public. And no one can drive a message better than a president. That means a president talking less about this...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

DAVIS: ...And sounding more like this.


RONALD REAGAN: My fellow Americans, good news for this hot summer day - tax reform is on its way toward final victory in the Congress.

DAVIS: Republicans gathered here at Reagan's ranch say this shouldn't be that hard. Tax cuts are a bedrock issue for the GOP. Lawmakers like Arizona's David Schweikert are excited by the prospect of a tax bill.

DAVID SCHWEIKERT: If we can get this to the floor, it'll be the single biggest, most important, powerful thing they're ever going to vote on in their lives. And so tax reform I believe creates its own sort of wind and its own to sort of shadow. So yeah, there's always going to be noise, but this is the biggest thing I'll ever vote on.

DAVIS: But first they need the president to get on message. Susan Davis, NPR News, Santa Barbara. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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