WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is counting on congressional Republicans to enact a package of tax cuts in the coming weeks, in the process delivering his first major legislative achievement since taking office in January.
But even as Trump and his Republican allies close in on the goal of passing tax reform, the Russia investigation continues to be a major distraction.
The recent plea deal between Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the office of special counsel Robert Mueller sent shockwaves around Washington and at the very least seemed to indicate the Russia probe is a long way from being completed.
WATCH: Trump Presses for Victory on Taxes as Russia Probe Continues
Banking on tax cuts
Trump is banking on a tax cut victory to shore up his political base and show supporters and detractors alike that he is a man of his word when it comes to delivering on his campaign promises.
House and Senate negotiators are now working to resolve differences in the two versions with hopes of final votes in the coming weeks. But even if the tax plan is enacted into law, its impact is not likely to be felt for at least a year. And polls show the plan has less than majority support.
Trump insists the tax cuts will lead to economic growth and more jobs.
“I will tell you this is in a nonbraggadocio way,” Trump told supporters in Missouri recently. “There has never been a 10-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished. That I can tell you.”
Democrats oppose the tax plan but lack the votes to stop it.
“It rewards the rich in terms of individuals and corporations at the expense of tens of millions of working middle class families in our country,” warned House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
?Base sticks with Trump
Despite his poor standing in national polls, just less than 40 percent approval in most surveys, Trump’s base is largely sticking with him. The latest American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 84 percent of Republicans continue to back the president.
“Among members of his own party, his standing is quite good,” said PRRI CEO Robert Jones, who announced the findings this week at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “He enjoys the support of 8 in 10 (Republicans) with significant numbers saying, in fact, that there is virtually nothing he could do to lose their support.”
Fueled by fear
Analysts say Trump’s hold on his supporters began during last year’s Republican primaries and remains strong. Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has written extensively over the years about Republican voters.
Olsen argues that Trump’s supporters are fueled by a sense of fear of economic and societal factors out of their control.
“These people were afraid of losing their economic and cultural place in American life and they wanted it back,” Olsen said. “So Donald Trump rockets to the top of the Republican primary largely on the backs of this sort of fear.”
Democrats won recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey largely on the basis of strong turnout from anti-Trump voters, fueling hope among the Trump opposition that Republicans may be facing some major defeats in next year’s midterm congressional elections.
But even liberal analysts like Joy Reid of MSNBC believe Trump’s base remains loyal to him.
“And so I think for Democrats who are realty kind of obsessed with this idea of converting Trump voters over, I’m not sure that that can be done, because I think for a lot of people, Trump is their Obama, and he has a cultural power over at least a third of the country that I don’t think anything can break,” Reid said. She was one of several people who spoke at a recent panel discussion at Brookings.
And in looking ahead to next year’s midterms, Trump’s low overall approval ratings could prove to be a drag for Republican candidates.
“If the president is in the same place as he is today at 38 or 39 percent job approval ratings, then that midterm election is probably not going to go well for Republicans,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “They are going to lose seats in the House of Representatives, maybe endangering their majority.”
Given what appears to be a unified Republican front on the tax cut bill now under consideration, Republicans seem to believe that the best way to protect themselves in next year’s election is to enact the president’s agenda.