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North Dakota to be setting for Trump's 'aggressive' tax reform pitch

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on the campaign trail during the 2016 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D. Forum News Service file photo2 / 2

BISMARCK — A Mandan oil refinery will serve as the backdrop for President Donald Trump's pitch for tax reform Wednesday, Sept. 6.

The president's visit to North Dakota, his first since being elected with almost 63 percent of the vote here last year, is expected to focus on the need for tax reform, but not how it gets accomplished, according to a senior White House official. Trump will be joined by several members of his Cabinet, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Air Force One is scheduled to arrive at the Bismarck Airport at 2:40 p.m. before Trump's remarks at the Andeavor refinery in Mandan shortly after 3 p.m. State Sen. Kelly Armstrong, chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party, said the event is an "invite-only" policy speech, and a senior White House official said about 700 people will attend.

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, a consistent Trump supporter, expects the president's remarks to be similar to those he made in Missouri a week ago. There, he again called for cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, which Cramer admitted is a "very aggressive proposal," but one that Trump has pitched as way to keep businesses and jobs in the United States.

Cramer also wants to hear about simplifying the tax code and making the United States more competitive with other countries.

"I think most importantly, I want to hear how will his tax plan and the Republican tax direction impact middle class, middle America," he said. "And I think that's why he's chosen Mandan for this speech, because it's the perfect backdrop to talk about that."

Trump has also proposed consolidating the number of individual income tax brackets from seven to three and doubling the standard deduction. In an op-ed published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel over the weekend, Trump called on Congress to support "pro-American tax reform."

"It's time for Congress to provide a level playing field for our workers, to bring American companies back home, to attract new companies and businesses to our country, and to put more money into the pockets of everyday hardworking people," he wrote.

North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, a Republican, said he hopes to hear that Trump's administration is making progress with Congress on a tax bill that can attract bipartisan support.

"We all pay a lot in federal income tax," he said. "I think people are frustrated that it's so complicated."

Rauschenberger also expected Trump to talk about energy issues during his visit to the nation's second largest oil-producing state. The refinery he'll visit has a capacity of 74,000 barrels per day and primarily processes crude oil from North Dakota, according to Andeavor's website.

Gov. Doug Burgum, along with First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, will greet Trump at the airport and attend his speech. Burgum, a first-term Republican, said the U.S. tax code is "long overdue for reform."

Heitkamp welcomes Trump

Trump is expected to put some pressure on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp during his Wednesday visit, though it's not clear he'll be as direct as he was a week ago in Missouri regarding another Democrat facing reelection next year.

"We must lower our taxes. And your senator, Claire McCaskill, she must do this for you. And if she doesn't do it for you, you have to vote her out of office," Trump said last week.

Heitkamp plans to attend Trump's North Dakota speech "pending any critical votes" and will travel on Air Force One, a spokeswoman for the senator said. A spokeswoman for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he also plans to travel with the president on Air Force One, and Cramer said it's "likely" he'll do the same.

In a statement released last week, Heitkamp said she was "glad to welcome President Trump to North Dakota, where North Dakotans are eager to hear more about his tax reform plan" and called for both parties to work on "permanent, comprehensive solutions."

Heitkamp, the lone Democrat elected to statewide office in deeply red North Dakota, has not yet said whether she'll seek reelection next year. Her only would-be opponent thus far, Republican state Sen. Tom Campbell, has already launched an aggressive advertising campaign.

In a letter to the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Greg Hodur, former chairman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, urged Heitkamp to not give Trump "a big hug to welcome him here on our behalf." But the president remains popular here, with a recent Gallup poll showing his 59 percent approval rating in North Dakota stands second only to West Virginia, and Heitkamp was reportedly under consideration for agriculture secretary under Trump.

"Any time a president comes to North Dakota, it's a great opportunity to lay the groundwork for a better future for our businesses and our families," Heitkamp said in last week's statement. "Now more than ever, I hope President Trump uses this visit to address the kitchen-table issues that keep the North Dakotans I've met with across the state this past month up at night."

Kylie Oversen, chairwoman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, called for bipartisan solutions for fixing the nation's "broken" tax code. But she said Trump has proposed policies "that would hurt North Dakota's economy," such as cutting crop insurance.

"We're eager to hear the president's ideas, but North Dakotans don't just want to hear a political stump speech, either," Oversen said in an email. "We welcome this opportunity, and we hope the president will spend as much time listening to our concerns as he does selling his agenda."

Reuters Media contributed to this report.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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