By (John Bresnahan)

House Republicans are set to pass their tax reform bill Thursday, as President Donald Trump returns from Asia to focus on the high-profile issue.

With many Republicans calling it a “make-or-break” moment for their majority, House GOP leaders and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady expressed confidence that they’ll have the needed 218 votes for passage — if they don’t already. Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) headed into a whip meeting Monday night saying he felt “very good” about the whip check while Brady (R-Texas) said, “we do and will have the votes for passage.”

About a half-dozen deputy whips echoed those comments after huddling with White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn in the basement of the Capitol, where there was no talk of delaying the vote until Friday. Indeed, leadership sources say the process has gone better than they ever predicted — a telltale sign of just how desperate Republicans are to notch a legislative victory after failing on Obamacare repeal.

“I think it’ll be there,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas). “I mean if guys like me are voting for it, after all the issues I had with it? I had a different idea of what it should look like, but it’s got some good stuff in it that will help jumpstart our country.”

The smooth-sailing comes as Trump returns to Washington from a five-nation tour of Asia. Some Republicans have worried privately that his homecoming could complicate passage. And many were relieved that Trump was gone for much of the House’s legislative work on the bill.

As if on cue, Trump tweeted Monday morning that while he is “proud” of Congress’s tax reform progress, he still wants them to include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate as part of the bill — and perhaps even slash the top individual rate from 39.6 percent in the House to 35 percent.

“How about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further? Cut top rate to 35% w/all of the rest going to middle income cuts?” he wrote.

While Brady said Monday that such changes “remains under consideration,” GOP leadership sources say neither are going to happen. Many Republicans agree in theory with Trump on axing the individual mandate. But leaders worry adding controversial health care policy into the mix will poison — and ultimately kill — their tax bill.

Cutting the top individual rate to 35 percent is also unlikely due to the sheer cost of that cut — money Republicans can’t spare if they want to circumvent Democrats and pass the tax bill by a majority vote in the Senate. What’s more, Trump was the one who originally urged the House to keep the top rate at 39.6 percent. And Republicans have already touted the top rate publicly while trying to sell their bill as boon to the middle class, not the wealthy.

Republican supporters of Trump’s ideas aren’t prepared to fight for them at this point — if only because they want to move the process along. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Monday night that while he’d prefer to include the individual mandate repeal, he and his fellow conservatives weren’t going to hold up the tax bill this week in order to secure that win.

The group, typically a pain in leadership’s side, has given leaders rare space in negotiating and writing the tax bill. While they did not endorse the tax bill during their weekly meeting Monday evening, Meadows said he believe his members are mostly “cautious yeses.”

“I do fully expect that the bill will move forward and pass on Thursday, based on our whip count and based on the general understanding of where the rest of the conference is,” Meadows said. “If anything it’s just a cautious ‘yes’ on moving the process forward with the full understanding that there’s still a number of issues that have to be worked out before final passage.”

However, Meadows said the group has a number of outstanding concerns that need to be addressed in conference — or they could lose conservative support: “Some of the private conversations have indicated a greater willingness to look at changing it in conference, and ultimately the reason why we believe we have that is we have enough votes to make sure it doesn’t pass on final passage if they’re not addressed.”

Despite caution where Trump is concerned, Republican leaders have invited the president to come rally the House GOP conference Thursday morning before passage. The White House also stands at the ready to make any calls necessary to get the bill over the finish line.

During the Monday evening whip meeting, Cohn told the room that “the president is happy with the progress, and supportive of the House bill,” according to Williams. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said the plan is to vote Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) said the discussion didn’t get into White House calls directly to lawmakers, but Cohn said he’s been in daily touch with Trump, sometimes multiple times a day, as the president flew around Asia.

“It’s obvious the president is very much engaged on the unfolding tax reform efforts,” Barr said.

GOP leaders, meanwhile, are still working behind the scenes to bolster their numbers. They met Monday night at 9 p.m. with lawmakers from high tax states like New York and New Jersey, who are currently “no” on the legislation.

It is unlikely that leaders can win over those members, whose constituents rely on the state and local tax deduction being canned in the tax bill. But Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a Ways and Means member close with leaders, predicted Monday night that there’s not enough high tax lawmakers opposing the legislation to actually sink the bill.

After Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) defected on the bill last week, GOP leaders worried other Californians concerned about losing the state and local tax deduction may follow suit. So far, that hasn’t happened—at least not yet.

California Republican Doug LaMalfa, for instance, said he’s a “yes” for the “current vehicle.” LaMalfa emphasized that there’s …read more

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