WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump sent mixed signals Friday on how he plans to sell the tax overhaul to the American public, staging an impromptu signing ceremony due to nervousness over the tone of TV coverage while also saying he wouldn't need to work very hard to convince voters of the law's merits.
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Mr. Trump had planned to leave town without a formal signing event for the tax overhaul, Republicans' first big legislative achievement during his presidency, which cuts taxes by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. His public schedule was blank, except for a 10 a.m. planned departure from the White House to Joint Base Andrews, then on to Palm Beach, Fla.
Then he had second thoughts.
"We were going to wait until Jan. 7 or 8 and do a big formal ceremony, but every one of the [TV] networks was saying, 'Will he keep his promise? Will he sign it for Christmas -- before Christmas?' And so I immediately called [staff], I said, 'Let's get it ready,' " Mr. Trump said of the move.
The president's departure was pushed back to 11 a.m., and reporters, camera operators and photographers were summoned to the Oval Office, where Mr. Trump signed the GOP tax bill and an unrelated spending bill that keeps government funded until mid-January.
"I said that the [tax] bill would be on my desk before Christmas, and you are holding me literally to that, so we did a rush job today," said Mr. Trump to reporters. "It's not fancy, but it's the Oval Office. It's the great Oval Office."
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Mr. Trump said he was confident that once the new tax-withholding tables kick in and working Americans see more in their paychecks, voters would come around to supporting the tax plan. Asked if he plans to travel the country to promote the plan, Mr. Trump responded: "I don't think I'm going to have to travel too much to sell it. I think it's selling itself."
Republicans have a lot riding on the success of the new law ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, in which control of both the House and Senate are expected to be in play. White House officials had said for several days that Mr. Trump would make a significant effort to sell the law, amid concerns from some GOP aides about low approval ratings for it at the moment.
A recent WSJ/NBC News poll showed few people believed the tax bill will provide relief for middle-class families, even though most households will get a tax cut, particularly in the early years of the changes. More people believed the bill was a bad idea than a good idea.
The impromptu signing event worried some allies.
"Today is a huge missed opportunity. Why is he signing this in the White House and not in a factory in a key battleground state that he won?" said one GOP operative. "Why is the tax bill a one-day story? Why weren't all 19 cabinet members on TV talking about how great this is?"
In some ways, the ceremony was in keeping with some other bill signings the president has carried out: He drew a distinctive signature in thick black ink for both the spending bill and the tax bill, then paused to hold up the documents to onlookers.
But it lacked the pomp and circumstance often undertaken for major legislation. When President Barack Obama signed the 2010 Affordable Care Act, he did so in front of a group that included Americans he said would benefit from the bill, and he was joined by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and longtime Rep. John Dingell, who took over a campaign for universal health care begun by his father in the 1930s. Many of them received one of 21 commemorative pens Mr. Obama used to sign that legislation.
On Friday morning, Mr. Trump's signing was attended by no lawmakers or everyday Americans who would benefit from the changes. He offered his commemorative pens to the media.
--Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.
Write to Louise Radnofsky at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 22, 2017 17:23 ET (22:23 GMT)