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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, acknowledged Saturday that Republicans will need to fight to sell their tax overhaul that was recently signed into law by President Donald Trump, saluting plans by the influential Koch network to spend up to $20 million to promote the new law's benefits.
"I’m delighted that the network is going to be committed to helping us tell that story because we’re going to have to continue to combat the misinformation and the naysayers — the people who want this to fail," Cornyn said.
He was speaking during a panel at a three-day donor retreat in the California desert hosted by the powerful network associated with the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
Polls showed public opinion was against the tax bill when Congress passed it late last year, though more recent surveys suggest support may be ticking up. Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, expressed optimism that support will grow as more Americans start to see increases in their take-home pay. And he suggested the bill allows the GOP to further play offense in the midterm elections by highlighting the unanimous opposition it received from Democrats, including those in states that Trump carried in 2016.
"Shame on us if we don't make it an issue" in the midterm elections, Cornyn said. "I think there's a great opportunity to take this to the people [in those states] and ask them is this the kind of representation they want."
Cornyn made the comments as part of a dinner panel with two fellow Republicans, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Hours earlier, Koch network officials said they were willing to unload up to $20 million to promote the tax law as part of a previously announced plan to spend as much as $400 million on politics and policy during the 2018 election cycle. That's 60 percent more than the network spent in the 2016 cycle.
The tax reform sales job was not the only topic highlighted by Koch network officials as the retreat got underway. They also reiterated their opposition to increasing the federal gas tax to pay for a $1 billion infrastructure plan that Trump has promised — a funding source that has been encouraged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and hasn't been ruled out by the White House.
Cornyn quickly shot down the proposed gas tax hike, calling it the "wrong way to go." Still, he said, lawmakers will have to get creative in trying to fund the ambitious infrastructure plan.
"It’s not like it’s going to fall like manna from the heavens," Cornyn said. "We’re going to have to figure out a way to do it, and there’s going to be some hard decisions."
Cornyn also aligned with the network on the importance of free trade, saying he believes the country “benefits tremendously” from it. The issue has put the Koch network at odds with Trump, who has assailed free-trade deals as unfair to Americans.
Cornyn seemed to be aware of the public opinion battle over trade, noting that sometimes people make the mistake of blaming it for things that cause economic hardship, such as automation.
"Not all of that is a result of trade, and I think we need to do a better job and I appreciate the network’s messaging on this,” Cornyn said, "because if the only voices that people hear is that trade is bad, then the public will believe it. And it’s not an easy lift."