Trump pitches tax overhaul effort in North Dakota

President Donald Trump

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- President Donald Trump sought to present his tax overhaul plan as an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation during a speech Wednesday in North Dakota, where he was joined by the state's Democratic senator.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp traveled with the president aboard Air Force One to an oil refinery in Mandan, where Trump was trying to build support for a tax overhaul. White House officials suggested it was a sign of potential bipartisan appeal, although the details of the tax plan are to yet to be determined.

But while the president's team spoke hopefully about bipartisanship, Republican leaders in Congress have made clear that they're pursuing a go-it-alone strategy on taxes that has shut Democrats out of the negotiations.

Trump traveled to North Dakota shortly after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in which the president sided with Democrats on a deal to fund the government and raise the federal borrowing limit for three months, all aimed at expediting money to Harvey relief.

>>VIDEO: Trump speaks about tax reform in North Dakota, Pt. 1
>>VIDEO: Trump speaks about tax reform in North Dakota, Pt. 2

Marc Short, Trump's top legislative adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One that "helping to clear the decks in September enables us to focus on tax reform for the American people. We need to get the economy growing again and that's what the president focused on."

In North Dakota, Trump planned to emphasize that the last time Congress passed a major tax overhaul, under President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Democrats signed on.

"Both of the Reagan tax cuts were passed by a Democratic majority in the House, a Democratic speaker, and the vast majority of Democrats in the Senate, including a Democratic senator from the great state of North Dakota," Trump said in prepared remarks released ahead of the speech.

"If Democrats continue their obstruction - if they don't want to bring back your jobs, raise your pay and help America win - voters should deliver a clear message: Do your job to deliver for America, or find a new job."

During Trump's first tax speech last week in Missouri, the state's Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill stayed away. In his remarks there, Trump urged people to vote her out of office if she did not support lowering taxes.

The president met Tuesday with Republican congressional leaders working on the tax overhaul, which aims to simplify the tax code, lower the rate for corporations, and reduce the tax burden for middle-class families.

Heitkamp, the only statewide-elected Democrat in heavily Republican North Dakota, is expected to face a tough challenge in next year's midterm elections. While she narrowly won the state in 2012, she is personally popular and has been careful to stake out policy positions that don't stray too far from the state's right-leaning electorate.

Heitkamp has not said she supports Trump's plan, only that the small business owners, energy industry workers, farmers and parents in her state are eager for changes to a tax code they believe is broken.

"That's why I'm glad to welcome President Trump to North Dakota where North Dakotans are eager to hear more about his tax reform plan," she said in a statement ahead of the visit.

Trump's trip takes him to friendly territory: He won North Dakota by 36 points last year and has championed policies that benefit its energy sector. Also joining the president was Republican Sen. John Hoeven and Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, weighing a bid to challenge Heitkamp.

As he continues his effort to put a populist spin on a tax overhaul that could include substantial benefits for corporate America, Trump also was expected to raise the story of a North Dakota cattle ranching family. The White House said Trump planned to mention Julie Ellingson, a fourth-generation rancher who is concerned about how the estate tax may affect her children when they inherit the operation.

The White House tax goals released in April include repealing the estate tax. Under current tax rules, heirs must pay 40 percent in taxes on any assets they inherit in excess of $5.49 million ($10.98 million for married couples). According to a recent report in The New York Times, Trump chief economic adviser Gary Cohn disparaged people who pay the estate tax for poor financial planning during a meeting with Senate Democrats.


Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Josh Boak contributed to this report.