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Trump's chaotic day ends with key Republican tax win, North Korean missile launch

President Donald Trump on Tuesday forged significant progress in his quest to cajole Republican senators into passing a sweeping tax reform bill -- but even as he picked up several crucial votes, he was pitched suddenly into a new international crisis by North Korea's missile launch.

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Phil Mattingly
Stephen Collinson (CNN)
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday forged significant progress in his quest to cajole Republican senators into passing a sweeping tax reform bill -- but even as he picked up several crucial votes, he was pitched suddenly into a new international crisis by North Korea's missile launch.

Trump succeeded in winning over holdout senators who had raised doubts about the tax legislation. But his attempts to choreograph a way out of a funding crunch that could soon close down the government hit a roadblock as top Democratic leaders boycotted a White House meeting after he had predicted in a tweet that there was no deal to be done.

A day of political drama underscored the intense year-end maneuvering as Trump and Republicans chase long-awaited political victories after a tumultuous 10 months since his inauguration and Democrats seek to leverage their own top issues. It also showed how grave challenges abroad can rock Washington and quickly put the bitter squabbles on Capitol Hill into a new perspective.

With the fate of the tax bill in the balance, Trump addressed a closed-door meeting of Republican senators, urging them to unite to secure a political win that would finally deliver on the GOP's monopoly on power and at last give him a genuine major legislative victory.

He later described the meeting as a "love fest" and said the caucus was united.

"I think it's going to pass and it's going to be very popular," Trump said.

Moments after he left the Capitol, two key Republican senators on the Budget Committee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who had been holding out for more concessions to meet their different concerns about the measure, told CNN they would vote for it.

A short time later, the panel passed the tax measure via party line, 12-11, sending the package to the Senate floor. Republican leaders hope to hold a vote on final passage later this week.

The bill permanently slashes corporate tax rates and temporarily reduces many individual tax rates, but Democrats charge that it does little to help working and middle class voters in the long term and represents a huge giveaway to Trump's rich friends.

Unclear fate

But the fate of the bill is not assured. First it must find a way through the narrowly divided Senate, then emerge from what could be a delicate process to reconcile it with an already passed House version.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed optimism the bill would pass in the next few days but admitted that putting together the winning majority on such a "big, complicated" bill was challenging.

"Think of sitting there with a Rubik's Cube, trying to get to 50," McConnell said.

Schumer tried to stoke Republican jitters that the tax bill could turn out to be a long-term political liability by warning that massive legislation passed in haste rarely worked out well for the American people.

"Let it sit out there in the sun ... and let it bake," he said, demanding more time for Americans to understand the implications of the proposal.

Poor Americans would lose billions of dollars in federal benefits under the proposal, according to the CBO report, largely because the measure eliminates the mandate forcing most Americans to get health insurance.

Trump, an inexperienced politician, has often been as much a hindrance as a help to Republican leaders as they steer major legislation. But there were clear signs that he had played a decisive role in Tuesday's meetings.

Sources told CNN that the President had an extended back-and-forth with Johnson during the luncheon. And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters that Trump went out of his way to address concerns of another wavering senator, Maine's Susan Collins, saying he would back a deal on paying Obamacare subsidies and an expanded a property tax deduction under the tax reform measure in return for her vote.

"Her two big concerns the President agreed to. Which I think is progress," Graham said.

North Korean missile

As Trump was on Capitol Hill, news broke of North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, a potentially significant advance for a weapons program that the President has said could eventually be the trigger for US military action.

By the time he returned to the White House -- and the meeting with Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, that their Democratic counterparts Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi spurned, Trump's mood had darkened.

He warned that the missile test highlighted the importance of funding the military in a year end spending duel, and said it should cause the top Democrats to rethink their no show.

"A lot of things have happened even over the last two hours with respect to the missile launch. We want our military funded and we want it funded now," the President said.

Schumer and Pelosi skipped the meeting because they argued that it was pointless after Trump wrote in a tweet that they wanted to see high taxes, immigrants pouring into the country and were weak on crime.

The top Senate Democrat warned that the President was inviting a "calamity" by declining to bargain over the terms of a funding for the government -- which could run out of money by December 8.

Pelosi, reacting to Trump's threats at the White House meeting -- which was set up with two empty chairs for the Democrats -- wrote on Twitter that the President now knew that his "verbal abuse will no longer be tolerated."

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