Dissecting White House spin that most Republicans want to raise taxes

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“I can’t believe that the majority of Republicans buy on to Scott’s plan.”

— President Biden, remarks on the economy, May 10

Three weeks ago, we gave President Biden Three Pinocchios for falsely claiming that “congressional Republicans” want to raise middle-class taxes. Many left-leaning readers were upset at our ruling — and certainly the White House has not backed off. Officials have kept to the same talking point, with occasional adjustments that sometimes acknowledge that only one congressional Republican — Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) — is the primary instigator of a controversial tax plan.

A reader sent us an email suggesting that we watch White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s defense of this talking point on Tuesday and withdraw our rating. We’re always willing to reconsider our Pinocchio rulings. But, contrary to the reader’s assumption, Psaki’s comments only reaffirmed why our original analysis was correct. We will concentrate on her explanation of why Biden claimed that a “majority” of Republicans back Scott’s plan.

A quick recap: In February, Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), released a 60-page “11-point plan to rescue America” that offered 128 proposals. One, buried on page 35, was this: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

Scott provided no details on his plan and offered no proposed legislative language. But his idea seemed to fill a policy vacuum. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate Republican leader, already dismissed the idea of issuing a policy platform before the midterm elections.

Various policy groups ran the numbers and quickly found that if every taxpayer were required to pay $100, or even just $1, taxes would increase by more than $1,000 on average for the poorest 40 percent of Americans. That’s because a minimum tax would wipe away the refundable tax credits that result in some households getting a check from the government.

The White House has called attention to such studies. But the biggest problem with this talking point is that virtually no Republicans have embraced Scott’s plan — and he in turn has suggested the line was misinterpreted. He has claimed “working-class Americans” who already pay “income tax, payroll tax, state and local taxes” would see no change.

Frankly, Scott tried to change the meaning of his words without officially abandoning the plank in his published plan. He wrote that “all Americans should pay some income tax” but now says payroll and sales taxes should count as well.

In any case, Scott consistently has insisted the document represented “Rick Scott’s policy ideas. It’s nobody else’s policy ideas.” Indeed, the plan was issued by Scott’s own campaign committee, not any GOP or Senate committee, including the NRSC.

The only reason that the White House avoided Four Pinocchios is because, at the moment, there are few competing policy platforms issued by congressional Republicans. Supposedly, House Republicans are working on something, but no plan has been released.

Okay, now let’s get to Psaki’s briefing. When challenged by a reporter about Biden’s “majority” comment, she made the case that important Republicans endorsed Scott’s plan. Here’s the key section of the official White House transcript.

MS. PSAKI: So, Chairman Ronna McD- — Ronna McDaniel praised Senator Scott’s proposal as a, quote, “clear plan” for Republicans that offers, quote, “real solutions.” She’s the chairwoman of the party.

Rick Scott is not a random senator. He is literally in charge of winning back the Senate for Republicans and what the plan is. So he is the person who’s put forward this plan.

Senator Ron Johnson has called the Congressional GOP plan a, quote, “positive thing.” Senator Mike Braun has said he was, quote, “glad Rick did it.” Senator Tommy Tuberville said he was, quote, “on board” with the Congressional GOP plan. Congressman Matt Gaetz said he was, quote, “proud of Senator Rick Scott for providing [producing] this bold agenda.”

So not only that, which seems to be quite a range of Republicans, but there isn’t an alternative plan they’ve put forward. So it’s either this, put together by the person who is leading the effort to win back the Senate, or nothing.

When we wrote our original fact check, the White House tried to make the case that other Republicans had endorsed it. After we looked into it, we found a handful of Republicans had broadly praised Scott for delivering a policy document. But virtually none endorsed either the tax plan or another controversial idea — having every law lapse after five years, apparently requiring Congress to renew even popular programs like Social Security.

After examining the transcript, we contacted every lawmaker or official who was name-checked by Psaki.

Psaki: “Ronna McDaniel praised Senator Scott’s proposal as a, quote, ‘clear plan’ for Republicans that offers, quote, ‘real solutions.’”

These quotes refer to tweets made by the Republican National Committee chairwoman when the plan was released. But McDaniel has declined to endorse Scott’s specific proposals when asked by reporters.

“Chairwoman McDaniel has applauded Sen. Scott for offering his ideas to deal with the many crises America faces under Joe Biden. But House and Senate Republicans set our Party’s legislative agenda,” said RNC deputy communication director Zach Parkinson. “The RNC is not a policy organization and does not endorse specific policy proposals. Instead of desperately misrepresenting what Sen. Scott has said to distract from their failures, perhaps the White House should focus on real problems Americans are facing, like bringing down gas prices and lowering the worst inflation in 40 years.”

Psaki: “Senator Ron Johnson has called the congressional GOP plan a, quote, ‘positive thing.’”

This refers to a quote Johnson (Wisconsin) gave to Breitbart News Daily. But the full quote shows that Johnson made it clear that this is “his [Scott’s] agenda” and “his priorities” and that Johnson did not agree with all of it.

“Well, first of all, I certainly support Senator Scott,” Johnson told Breitbart. “He’s a real ally. And, you know, he’s showing the voters what he would do. This is, this is his agenda. I think it’s totally appropriate. Do I agree with everything on it? Most of it. I would have changes to certain things, but I think it’s a positive thing. It would be nice if as a party, we would come together and show the American people — this is exactly what our priorities are. And those are Rick’s priorities.”

“The Democrats continue to lie and take this quote out of context,” said Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning: “The correct context is the Senator was asked if he supports the plan, he said he supports Senator Scott for showing the voters what he is for, what his priorities are.”

Psaki: “Senator Mike Braun has said he was, quote, ‘glad Rick did it.’”

This refers to a paragraph that appeared in The Washington Post: “Independents are the individuals that elect the swing-state senators and the president, and I think they want something other than no or I’m not interested,” Braun said. “I’m glad Rick did it. Nothing is going to be perfect” but “we’ve got to be for something.”

Zacharie Riddle, Braun’s communications director, said the Indiana senator was not commenting on the plan’s provisions and the full quote was: “I’m glad Rick did it. Nothing is going to be perfect, but, all I’m saying, even without getting into the particulars, we’ve got to be for something.”

Riddle provided this statement from Braun: “I’m honored to be mentioned in hopefully one of the last misinformation Psaki bombs. The political class in D.C. has twisted the facts and lied about Rick Scott’s plan from day one because they don’t have a plan for how to address $30 trillion in debt, record inflation, a humanitarian crisis at our southern border, and rampant crime in cities. I’m glad Rick Scott put out a plan because he was sent here for the same reason Hoosiers sent me here — to drain the swamp and end business as usual.”

Psaki: “Senator Tommy Tuberville said he was, quote, ‘on board’ with the congressional GOP plan.”

This is a partial quote given to Politico: “Though Scott’s platform has roiled some corners of the GOP, it has some support in the party too. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said he’s ‘on board’ with Scott’s blueprint and said Republicans need to be thinking about “a universal plan that we need to sell to the American people.”

We were not able to obtain the full quote, but Ryann DuRant, Tuberville’s communications director, said: “That’s the answer the Senator gave when asked if he supported Senator Scott’s alternative plan in its entirety (not an individual piece of it). So I’d say it was more generic words of praise for the overall proposal.”

Psaki: “Congressman Matt Gaetz said he was, quote, ‘proud of Senator Rick Scott for providing [producing] this bold agenda.’”

This refers to a Feb. 22 tweet Gaetz made when the plan was released. We cannot find an instance when the Florida member of Congress commented on elements of the proposal. His spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

As we suspected, none of the quotes cited by Psaki support the specific proposals that have caused controversy. Instead, they generally are generic words of support for the idea of releasing a plan.

We still see little evidence that the proposals highlighted by the White House merit enough support that they can be dubbed “congressional Republican” plans, let alone plans that a “majority” of Republicans back. Scott remains on a policy island, all by himself, though substantive alternative plans have yet to be introduced by other Republicans.

We reaffirm our rating of Three — nearly Four — Pinocchios.

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