Paul Ryan Talks Tax Bill, Trump and Sexual Harassment on 'Today'

NBC
Paul Ryan on 'Today'

"Are you living in a fantasy world?" cohost Savannah Guthrie asked Ryan when discussing how the GOP tax bill will help American workers. She also asked his position on Trump's sexual misconduct accusers.

Jubilant Republicans pushed forward early Wednesday to the verge of the most sweeping rewrite of the nation's tax laws in more than three decades, a deeply unpopular bill they insist Americans will learn to love when they see their paychecks in the new year. President Donald Trump cheered the lawmakers on, eager to claim his first major legislative victory.

After midnight, the Senate narrowly passed the legislation on a party-line 51-48 vote. Protesters interrupted with chants of "Kill the bill, don't kill us" and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly called for order. Upon passage, Republicans cheered, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin among them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted Americans would respond positively to the tax bill. "If we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work," he said. Trump hailed the vote in an early morning tweet and promised a White House news conference, likely Wednesday, when the House completes legislative action on the measure.

The early morning vote came hours after the GOP rammed the bill through the House, 227-203. But it wasn't the final word in Congress because of one last hiccup.

Three provisions in the bill, including its title, violated Senate rules, forcing the Senate to vote to strip them out. So the massive bill was hauled back across the Capitol for the House to vote again Wednesday, and Republicans have a chance to celebrate again.

Hours earlier, Ryan, who has worked years toward the goal of revamping the tax code, gleefully pounded the gavel on the House vote. GOP House members roared and applauded as they passed the $1.5 trillion package that will touch every American taxpayer and every corner of the U.S. economy, providing steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy, and more modest help for middle- and low-income families.

Despite Republican talk of spending discipline, the bill will push the huge national debt ever higher. "This was a promise made. This is a promise kept," House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders said at a victory news conference.

Ryan, appearing on NBC News' Today show Wednesday morning, said the GOP is willing to risk running up deficits to jump-start the economy with the aim of getting a higher annual growth rate. The Wisconsin Republican, who has been a deficit hawk over the years, embraced arguments by other Republican leaders that the boost to the economy will go a long way toward offsetting a ballooning debt.

"What we're trying to do here is give relief to hard-working families," Ryan said on Today.

Citing a previous statement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that it’s "pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth," Guthrie asked Ryan plainly, "Are you living in a fantasy world?"

Ryan replied, "Surveys would show the vast majority of businesses are going to do just what we say, reinvest in their workers, reinvest in their factories, pay people more money, higher wages."

At the end of his appearance on Today, Guthrie also asked Ryan about the sexual harassment claims against Trump and if he would support an investigation into the president. "Congress doesn't do criminal investigations," he said, inviting her to talk to the White House. He then called upon her former co-host Matt Lauer, who was fired over sexual harassment claims: "You know this very clearly — because it happened in your industry, in your studio. Let’s take this moment for as seriously as it is and not make it some partisan thing.” 

Ryan said he has spoken with Democrats, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Jackie Speier, and said a slew of reforms would be announced at the end of the week so Congress can "get ahead" of the problem. Citing mandatory training, victims rights and changing laws about disclosure and transparency, he told Guthrie, "Let's not make this some partisan food fight. Let's give this issue the respect it deserves so that we can make sure to change this culture so we're not having this story a year from now."

When asked if he shares the White House position that the women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct are lying, Ryan said, "Look, I don't even know what the accusations are. I’m focused on fixing Congress, I’m focused on my job, where I work, making this institution safe. I want my daughter to be able to grow up in an economy to go into a work, public or private sector, where she's not being harassed. Where she's being empowered. That's what I'm focused on."

After the delay for a second House vote Wednesday, the tax measure then heads to Trump, who is aching for a big political victory after 11 months of legislative failures and nonstarters. The president tweeted his congratulations to GOP leaders and to "all great House Republicans who voted in favor of cutting your taxes!"

The GOP has repeatedly argued the bill will spur economic growth as corporations, flush with cash, increase wages and hire more workers. But they acknowledge they have work to do in convincing everyday Americans. Many voters in surveys see the legislation as a boost to the wealthy, such as Trump and his family, and a minor gain at best for the middle class.

"I don't think we've done a good job messaging," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. "Now, you're able to look at the final product."

Ryan was positive, even insistent. He declared, "Results are what's going to make this popular."

Democrats called the bill a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy, with no likelihood that business owners will use their gains to hire more workers or raise wages. And they mocked the Republicans' contention that the bill will make taxes so simple that millions can file their returns "on a postcard" — an idea repeated often by the president.

Tax cuts for corporations would be permanent while the cuts for individuals would expire in 2026 to comply with Senate budget rules. The tax cuts would take effect in January, and workers would start to see changes in the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks in February.

The bill is projected to add $1.46 trillion to the nation's debt over a decade. GOP lawmakers say they expect a future Congress to continue the tax cuts so they won't expire. That would drive up deficits even further.

The bill would initially provide tax cuts for Americans of all incomes. But if the cuts for individuals expire, most Americans — those making less than $75,000 — would see tax increases in 2027, according to congressional estimates.

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