Republican leaders wanted to tout the six-month anniversary of their tax cuts this week. The rest of Washington was too busy to join the fanfare.
Instead, to GOP dismay, another issue dominated the headlines: immigration. It was the latest example of the struggle Republicans face in making the tax overhaul — their signature legislative achievement — resonate with voters.
“I haven’t had time to mark this important date,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a vulnerable Florida Republican heavily involved in the negotiations over an immigration bill and a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said Thursday.
The rising cost of health insurance is another issue causing unease.
With less than five months of campaigning to go until the November midterm elections that will determine control of Congress, taxes don’t rank among the top five most-pressing issues for voters, according to a recent Gallup poll. And some political consultants are even steering Republican candidates away from tax issues in their re-election campaigns.
Recent spats between President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers — over immigration policies that separate parents and children illegally crossing the border and additional tariffs on U.S. trading partners — have deflated the legislative euphoria Republicans briefly felt after passing the tax cuts. It’s a common theme — last year, indictments and guilty pleas in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign competed with the rollout of the tax legislation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan used events this week to showcase the tax cuts, calling them a “game-changer for people in this economy.” On Wednesday, he put forth other top Republicans, who also tried to highlight the positive effects of the tax cuts. Almost every question the lawmakers received was about immigration.
Just a day earlier, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who led the Senate’s tax cut charge, gave a speech praising the law. At that moment, every network was focused on Trump, who was about to sign an executive order that ended the policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents.
“I run campaigns all over the country and in every poll we run — in every district, no matter where it is — the No. 1 issue for Republicans is immigration. It’s not even close,” said Harlan Hill, a GOP consultant and adviser to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
Immigration issues have even crept into the tax cut messaging. As lawmakers debate changing the laws for immigrants to legally obtain jobs in the U.S., they also say the economy is demanding more workers.
“We’ve gone from a country that asks ’where are the jobs’ to one that asks ‘where are the workers’,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said in an interview.