On the day the Senate moved on long-promised health-care legislation, President Donald Trump signaled
his next priority: overhauling the tax code to push corporate rates down and give middle-class taxpayers a
break, even if it means some of the wealthiest pay more.
“The people I care most about are the middle-income people in this
country, who have gotten screwed,” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal on
Tuesday, reiterating that he wants to bring down the corporate tax rate to 15%.
“And if there’s upward revision it’s going to be on high-income people.”
Sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump hopscotched across
a variety of policy and personnel topics over the course of the 45-minute
The president repeated his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions
for recusing himself from a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016
election, declining to say the former Alabama senator’s job was
He said his front-runners to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve
board of governors early next year would be the incumbent, Janet Yellen, and
Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council.
On foreign affairs, he said that he expected Iran to be found
non-compliant with the terms of a
landmark nuclear deal sealed under President Barack Obama when the issue comes
back up for review in September.
And on trade, he said the U.S. and the U.K. are in talks about
a comprehensive trade deal that
would be ready as soon as the U.K. exits the European Union. Mr. Trump’s team
is also getting ready to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement
with Mexico and Canada, though he said he still regards the pact as “one of the
truly bad deals.”
Mr. Trump also said his administration’s long-expected curbs on steel
imports were still being discussed internally, though it may be some time
before he acts on the issue.
Ticking off what he sees as his accomplishments, Mr. Trump mentioned
his appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, his deregulatory efforts and changes at the
Veterans Affairs Department, which has pushed to reduce wait times for patients
Asked about disappointments, Mr. Trump made a reference to the
health-care debate. “I have to see where we are with this,” he said in the
hours before the Senate voted to advance the debate on its health-care bill.
Besides a tax code overhaul this year, he said he placed a priority on
improvements in the nation’s infrastructure.
His term so far also has been marked by investigations into what U.S.
intelligence agencies say was a
campaign backed by the Kremlin to influence the presidential campaign in Mr.
Trump’s favor. Investigations in Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller
are looking into the Russian meddling and whether any members of the Trump
campaign colluded, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied. Russia has denied any
The Russia investigations often have stymied the White House’s ability to
make progress on its agenda, and Mr. Trump reiterated his recent criticism of
Mr. Trump on Tuesday blamed Mr. Sessions’s recusal as the reason the
Justice Department named Mr. Mueller as special counsel. Mr. Mueller’s
appointment came after Mr. Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who had
been overseeing the investigation.
When asked whether Mr. Mueller’s job is safe, Mr. Trump responded: “I
have no comment yet, because it’s too early. But we’ll see. We’re going to
He also declined to offer a vote of confidence in Mr. Sessions, who was
one of the earliest Washington supporters of Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Mr.
Sessions’s endorsement was seen at the time as a tough blow to Trump rival Sen.
Ted Cruz, who was counting on evangelical support in Southern states, including
Alabama. Mr. Trump suggested that his own popularity in Alabama was the reason
for Mr. Sessions’ endorsement.
Mr. Sessions backed Mr. Trump at a rally that drew tens of thousands in
Mobile, Ala., one of the largest rallies of the campaign at that point. “He
looks at the 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’” Mr.
Trump said. “So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
During the interview, Mr. Trump appeared relaxed in the company of close
aides, which included his daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Chief
of Staff Reince Priebus, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, Hope
Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications, and Mr. Cohn.
Mr. Trump praised the arrival of Mr. Scaramucci, who was appointed
Friday, suggesting that he would help settle internal unrest and backbiting
that has characterized the West Wing.
He quipped that this type of palace intrigue was “White House stuff,
where they’re fighting over who loves me the most.” Mr. Trump said he has no
other immediate changes planned for his senior staff.
Mr. Scaramucci had endorsed two of Mr. Trump’s rivals during the primary
campaign. Mr. Trump shrugged that off on Tuesday. He said Mr. Scaramucci
offered his support before he was ready to enter the race. “His first choice
was Trump,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s important to say that.”
Asked if Mr. Cohn was a candidate to become the next Federal Reserve
chairman, Mr. Trump said, “He doesn’t know this, but yes, he is.”
He said he would wait until the end of the year to make a decision, even
if it would require a confirmation hearing. He predicted that such a process
would “go quickly.”
“I’ve known Gary for a long time, but I’ve gained great respect for Gary
working with him,” Mr. Trump said. “So Gary certainly would be in the mix.”
Mr. Cohn responded by laughing, and placing his hands over his ears.
“This is an interview with the president,” he said, declining additional
Mr. Trump said he has “a lot of respect” for Ms. Yellen, praising the
decisions to keep interest rates low and crediting her for keeping the U.S.
dollar “not too strong.” “She is in the running to stay,” he said.
Turning to taxes, Mr. Trump echoed some of the populist themes from his
presidential campaign. He described twin imperatives in overhauling the tax
structure: boosting economic growth and easing the tax burden on middle-class
“I have wealthy friends that say to me, ‘I don’t mind paying more tax,’ ”
the president said.
He added that “we have to take care of middle-income people in this
country. They built the country. They started this whole beautiful thing that
we have. And we have to take care of them. And people have not taken care of
them, and we’re going to.”
Mr. Trump’s aides are working with top Republican lawmakers on a proposal
that would bring about the first major rewrite of the tax code in 30 years. Mr.
Trump and White House officials have been vague on significant middle-class
provisions, such as the personal exemption, while promising specific benefits
for high-income households such as the repeal of the estate tax and alternative
minimum tax. Mr. Trump didn’t elaborate Tuesday on how he planned to favor the
On Iran, Mr. Trump said the administration had given Iran “the benefit of
every doubt” about their compliance with the 2015 multinational nuclear deal.
The president must certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance
with its obligations. The president made such a certification earlier this
But when certification comes up again, Mr. Trump said he believes Iran
will be judged not compliant with the agreement. He said he would be prepared
to overrule his own advisers in proclaiming that Iran hasn’t met the terms of
“We’ve been extremely nice to them in saying they were compliant,” Mr.
Trump said. “Personally, I have great respect for my people, but if it was up
to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.”
He added: “We’ll talk about the subject in 90 days but I would be
surprised if they were in compliance.”
The interview came hours before the Senate voted to advance health care
legislation that in recent weeks had appeared stalled.
Mr. Trump has suggested different approaches toward abolishing the
Affordable Care Act signed into law seven years ago. At times he has called for
letting Obamacare,as it is known, collapse before ushering in a replacement. At
other times he has said the best strategy would be repealing the law and
quickly approving a new system.
GOP leaders have primarily pursued a strategy of repealing and replacing
the health law simultaneously. In the interview, Mr. Trump said he preferred
The “trouble with [straight] repeal is you’ll have millions of people out
there that ... will say, ‘Well, you know, how do we know we’re going to have
health care?’ And I hate to do that to people,” he said.
He added: “So I’d rather see replace. I’d rather add the replace. And we
have a very good plan.”
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