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Friday, September 22, 2017 1:00 am

Tax reform draws rivals for Indiana appearance

Senate hopefuls join Pence, others in Anderson today

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Three rivals for a U.S. Senate seat representing Indiana – Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita – will tag along with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Anderson today.

It could make for a tense gathering at a technology park in the east-central Indiana city.

Pence and the White House are trying to persuade Donnelly to support Republican efforts to overhaul the federal income tax code. Donnelly is among moderate Democrats whom the Trump administration is hoping to win over in a Senate where the GOP has a shaky 52-48 majority.

The Senate campaigns of Messer, R-6th, and Rokita, R-4th, have been hammering Donnelly regularly on a number of issues. Yet Messer and Rokita have made more news for their verbal attacks on each other as they ramp up their campaigns for the GOP Senate primary election next May.

Also attending the Pence appearance will be Gov. Eric Holcomb and Rep. Susan Brooks, R-6th. Brooks endorsed Messer's Senate candidacy on Wednesday.

Holcomb defeated Rokita and Brooks in a GOP caucus vote last year to become the Republican gubernatorial nominee after then-Gov. Pence joined Donald Trump's presidential ticket.

The White House announced Wednesday that the officials will “meet with local business leaders and Hoosier families to discuss tax reform” in Anderson this afternoon.

Pence also will speak at Wylam Center of Flagship East.

Donnelly's office said he is not expected to have a public speaking role at the event. Even if he did, it would be surprising if he would stray from his previous remarks about possible revisions to the tax code.

“As we discuss tax reform, I believe that any reform effort should include policies that will create new jobs, protect existing jobs, and benefit middle class and working families,” he said in a Thursday statement, repeating earlier comments he has made.

“That is what I've discussed with President Trump, and I'm pleased he has been supportive of my proposals to prevent the outsourcing of jobs.”

Donnelly and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota joined three Republicans for a Sept. 12 dinner at the White House to discuss taxes with Trump. Donnelly, Manchin and Heitkamp also were among 10 senators from both parties to have lunch with Trump in February to talk about a variety of topics.

“I hope he listens and sees the support that exists in this state” for tax code changes, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer said Thursday in a telephone interview about Donnelly's trip to Anderson.

“Because thus far, he has tended to ignore the mandate that Hoosiers I think delivered clearly when they elected the president and the vice president – that they wanted change and they wanted the president's agenda moved forward.”

Hupfer rejected the suggestion that Donnelly's very inclusion at the Anderson event might make him more attractive to Republican and independent voters. He said the state GOP will make it clear that Donnelly's participation “is general protocol and that Hoosiers need to understand how Joe Donnelly votes and acts when he's in Washington, D.C.”

He said Donnelly's inclusion is “certainly far from any sort of a message that there is some level of support, because there is not.”

Messer issued a statement saying he expects Donnelly “to do what he does best ... make a political calculation, support President Trump's plan and hope he gets away scot-free.”

Indiana Democratic Party spokesman Will Baskin-Gerwitz said in a phone interview, “Joe's proved time and again he will reach across the aisle and work with Republicans given the right opportunity and put Indiana's goals before Democratic goals.”

Donnelly issued a statement Thursday expressing support for Trump's announcement that he will impose new economic sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear weapons program.

Baskin-Gerwitz noted that there so far is no tax legislation for Donnelly and the rest of Congress to consider.

Messer and Rokita “have been calling for Congress to pass a bill before it's been written,” he said, adding, “They're just trying to tie themselves closer to Trump and Pence.”

Donnelly will be in Anderson “trying to figure out if he can work with the Trump and Pence administration on policy, because he has a record of being able to work with Republicans,” Baskin-Gerwitz said. “And Messer and Rokita are just there to play politics and sort of try to punch above their weight.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that Republicans intend to produce a “consensus document” on tax overhaul next week but that “it is not expected to be an actual plan or bill.” The Times said Republicans remain divided over whether to accept a tax cuts package that would increase the federal budget deficit.