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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democrats Reframing Tax Debate to Highlight Trump’s Abuses

As millions of taxpayers prepare to pay taxes to subsidize give-aways to the wealthy, Democrats are refocusing their strategy to call attention to the ways President Trump benefits from Republican tax “reform” and his refusal to honor his promise to release his tax documents. Greg Sargent explains the strategy at The Plum Line:

The Republican Congress has essentially built a protective wall around President Trump — and at times, this can make efforts to bring transparency or accountability to his unprecedented conflicts of interest and serial shredding of democratic and governing norms appear hopeless.

But now Democrats have a new opening to try to chip away at that protective wall: the debate over tax reform.

…The New York Times reports that Democrats are coalescing around a strategy that would use the White House’s desire for tax reform to try to leverage more transparency about Trump’s business holdings. The basic idea — which your humble blogger suggested back in January — is that tax reform is particularly ripe for conflicts of interest, given Trump’s refusal to divest from those holdings. So Democrats can use the reform measures the White House pushes to demand that he reveal the specific ways in which his holdings might benefit from those measures, while using the broader attention to the issue — which impacts the tax bills of millions of voters — to renew the demand that Trump generally release his returns.

In an interview with me this morning, former Obama ethics chief Norm Eisen noted that GOP divisions on health care have shown that Republicans struggle to pass legislation on their own, despite GOP control. “You’re going to see similar fractures,” Eisen said, meaning Democrats may end up with “substantial leverage.”

“Democrats can use questions about the multiple conflicts raised to drive attention to the issue and to insist on concessions,” Eisen continued. “One is specific disclosures related to any policies he’s pushing for. We’re looking at corporate rates. What is the rate differential going to be into his pocket? We’re looking at particular areas of cuts. Will there be a cut relating to real estate? Will the alternative minimum tax be eliminated?”…“When he signs this bill, he may be giving himself a huge financial transfer,” Eisen told me. “He may be directly benefiting himself with some of these tax policies, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

…We’re going to have a big burst of attention to his taxes this week, with the tax march,” Eisen said, adding that recent disclosure documents revealing that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump continue to benefit from an enormous array of holdings could increase the pressure to recuse themselves from policy debates that could impact them — such as tax reform…“You’re going to see angry constituents in the districts applying pressure as well. It’s going to be a continued festering wound for Trump. I believe eventually he’s going to have to make some concessions on this. It’s part of his low approval ratings. There’s been a constant miasma of scandal because he won’t provide this information and won’t divest.”

“At a minimum,” argues Sargent, the strategy “could draw increased attention to the fact that congressional Republicans continue to look the other way while Trump continues shredding basic norms of ethics and transparency.”

Sargent notes that the White House is planning a big campaign to spin Trump’s first 100 days as a great success, which will try to show that he honors his promises. But Democrats have an embarrassment of riches indicating the contrary. If they present their case well, the GOP media blitz could backfire spectacularly.

When Democrats call “attention to Trump’s untold conflicts of interest, lack of transparency around his holdings and refusal to release his returns — and to the ways in which those things are intertwined,” writes Sargent, it will help reveal that the “swamp” Trump promised to drain “has become a veritable cesspool.” Add to that images of Trump’s unprecedented number of golf outings, Mar-a-lago trips and the costs to tax payers of the jet-set shenanigans of his offspring, as well as exorbitantly-expensive policy ideas like his border wall, and a clear picture emerges of a President and party who give no pause to squandering the tax-payer dollars of working people to subsidize a corrupt regime — which now seems more accountable to Vladimir Putin than hard-working American taxpayers.

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