President Donald Trump took a victory lap in Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, touting strong economic numbers as proof of his administration’s success, and calling on Congress to pass major tax reform to continue to spur growth.
The Trump White House has delivered “incredible results and results that in many cases the media hates to report,” the president declared, ticking off numbers such as low unemployment, growing GDP and a surging stock market — trends that were well under way during President Barack Obama’s second term. The dig at the media came after Trump suggested earlier Wednesday that the government crack down on certain media outlets.
“The confidence in our country is back like it hasn’t been in many, many years,” the president told a crowd of about 1,000 at an event for truckers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “The fact is, America is finally back on the right track but our country and our economy cannot take off like they should” without tax reform.
Trump largely hewed to his script, avoiding lengthy riffs on other topics and promising expansive benefits from a tax plan that has yet to be fully detailed by the White House or tax writers in Congress.
“You better get it passed,” Trump said of Congress. “They will, I know.”
The speech marked a continuation of the president’s road show to promote tax reform and turn up the heat on Senate Democrats seeking re-election in 2018 in states he carried last November.
Trump was joined last month in North Dakota by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and in Indiana by Sen. Joe Donnelly, two of the most vulnerable Democrats in states where Trump remains popular.
However, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Bob Casey, did not appear with Trump on Wednesday. He received his invitation only on Tuesday, and his office said he couldn’t attend because of a scheduling conflict.
“Our framework ensures that the benefits of tax reform go to the middle class, not to the highest earners,” Trump declared at one point. “It’s a middle-class bill.” Independent analyses have shown highest-income households would reap the largest benefits from the president’s proposal.
“I’ve had rich friends of mine come up to me and say, ‘Donald you’re doing this tax plan, we don’t want anything, we don’t,’” Trump said. “So many people have come up to me and said, ‘Give it to the middle class, give it to the people that need it.’”
He specifically cited New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who Trump noted had given him a Super Bowl ring. Kraft encouraged Trump to focus his tax plan on the middle class, Trump told the crowd.
The speech included vague promises of fulfilling “great American dreams” and a pledge to repair U.S. infrastructure, though the president did not get into the details.
He also took a moment to reflect on his new line of work.
“I had a very good life, but you know what? I’m having a better life now and I’m helping a lot of people,” Trump told the crowd, which roared its approval.
The speech did not include any sustained appeal to Democrats, even though the White House insists Trump is serious about winning bipartisan support for the approach on taxes.
Trump has at times sought to woo Democrats — “good woman,” he said of Heitkamp as she joined him onstage last month — while at times opting for threats.
“And your Senator, Claire McCaskill, she must do this for you,” he told a Missouri crowd in August. “And if she doesn’t do it for you, you have to vote her out of office.”
Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania seems far less likely than other Trump-state Democrats to come on board with the tax-reform push. Casey has not sought to strike a cooperative posture toward the president, as Heitkamp and Donnelly have, instead taking on the role of a vocal and frequent critic.
He showed as much Wednesday, releasing a statement slamming Trump’s tax proposals.
“Congressional Republicans are not pursuing tax reform, just a massive tax giveaway to the super-rich at the expense of the middle class,” Casey said. “80% of the Republican tax plan goes to the top 1% by 2027— that’s a bad deal for middle class families and workers.”
His race is expected to have echoes of 2016, particularly if his opponent is Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Penn.), an early Trump supporter and an immigration hard-liner who joined the president on Wednesday’s trip. Casey is still viewed as the favorite, even after Trump became the first Republican to carry the Keystone State since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Casey had a 46 percent approval rating in a Morning Consult poll conducted this past spring, with 21 percent of voters disapproving of his performance. Trump won a narrow victory over Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania in 2016, beating her by about 44,000 votes out of more than 6 million ballots cast.
“He’s moved to the left as his party and the voters in his party have moved to the left,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College poll. Still, “Casey is not your quintessential urban Democrat. Casey has not in some sense forgotten his working-class roots, where Republicans have made their biggest gains.”
Madonna sees the race as Casey’s to lose — especially if the 2018 midterms shape up broadly to be a referendum on Trump, as many analysts expect.