Vice President Mike Pence rallied Republicans in downtown Minneapolis Wednesday, selling the party’s tax cuts and talking up the state of the U.S. and Minnesota economies under President Donald Trump.
“This president’s keeping his promise to rev the engine of the American economy,” Pence said to a crowd of about 500 gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center, in a 30-minute campaign-style speech that foreshadowed the GOP message in upcoming congressional elections.
Republicans hope economic growth, low unemployment and fatter paychecks from the tax cut Trump signed last year will translate into votes in November.
Those votes will be needed in Minnesota, where Trump fell just short of winning in 2016. This year brings a highly consequential election including two U.S. Senate races, four competitive House contests and a wide-open governor’s race. Minnesota’s three Republican congressmen, Reps. Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis, all joined Pence for the event; Paulsen and Lewis both currently hold the kind of largely suburban districts where Democrats hope to post gains.
From the stage in downtown Minneapolis, Pence mentioned Minnesota’s Iron Range, where Trump’s pro-mining and protectionist trade policies have won wide acclaim, and he also said 28,000 new jobs have been created in the Twin Cities metro since Trump’s election.
Long a favorite of the party’s conservative base, Pence touched on enduring GOP themes including tax cuts and deregulation, border security, and support for military and police. He ended with a call to pray for the future of the country.
“It’s been a year of promises made and promises kept,” Pence said.
Outside the confines of the enthusiastic support of the convention hall, however, Pence and his fellow Republicans face a challenging political environment, dominated by perceived White House chaos and scandal and an energized Democratic base. The opposition party has won congressional seats during five of the past six presidents’ first terms, with the exception of President George W. Bush in 2002. President Barack Obama’s party suffered a landslide in 2010 that delivered control of the U.S. House to Republicans.
Before Pence even arrived, DFL Chairman Ken Martin greeted him with a political attack: “Pence is descending on Minnesota to peddle the GOP’s tax scam,” Martin said in a statement. “This bill is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes from hardworking Minnesotans to give massive tax breaks to the wealthy.”
The two parties are likely to debate the Trump tax cuts’ merits at least through this coming election, just as debate about Obama’s signature legislative achievement — the Affordable Care Act — has continued unabated for years.
The state’s Republican congressmen, as well as MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, participated in a roundtable before the Pence event, sharing success stories about the tax cuts.
Democratic campaign operatives used the joint appearance to tie the Minnesota Republicans to Trump. In a news release, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee highlighted a portion of Pence’s speech where he thanked Paulsen for “fighting every day shoulder to shoulder with President Trump.”
Paulsen, who helped assemble the new tax law, pointed to provisions encouraging businesses to bring foreign profits home and keep their headquarters here.
Another provision will provide tax savings from the purchase of new equipment, which will help businesses expand their workforce and increase productivity, he said.
Paulsen and Lewis touted bonuses and raises given by local companies like Best Buy and U.S. Bank in the wake of the tax cuts.
But corporations are also using the tax savings on shareholders, increasing dividends and buying outstanding shares. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that share buybacks announced by large U.S. companies have exceeded $200 billion in recent months, more than double the prior year.
A new report from the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution in Washington, shows an unequal distribution of the savings in the new tax law. People with income between about $49,000 and $86,000 will receive an average tax cut of about $800, or 1.4 percent of after-tax income.
Those with income between about $308,000 and $733,000 will benefit the most as a share of after-tax income, with an average tax cut of about $11,200 or 3.4 percent.
Overall, according to the same analysis, 65 percent of taxpayers will receive a tax cut in 2018 — averaging about $2,200 — and about 6 percent will see an average tax increase of about $2,800.
Washington’s beleaguered fiscal hawks are also newly concerned about the tax cuts — and spending increases passed last week — and their impact on the deficit.
“The country faces an unsustainable fiscal situation that has significantly deteriorated in the last year,” said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in a recent report.
But in a blend of folksy intonation and practiced political polish, Pence spoke in the optimistic tones of his political hero, Ronald Reagan.
“The real strength of this country is not found in the marble halls of government. The strength and the greatness of this nation is found in the hearts and the character and the faith and work ethic and the resilience of the American people,” he said.
Trump came closer to winning Minnesota than any Republican since Richard Nixon last carried the state in 1972. Pence previewed the love a re-election campaign would show Minnesota, reviewing some of the state’s history, including its role as the first state to offer soldiers to the Civil War effort.
“Minnesota has long been, and is today, the star of the north,” he said.
After wrapping up, Pence was mobbed by supporters seeking photos and autographs, as Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” played over the convention center’s loudspeakers.
Zoe Zhi, who was there with her 15-year-old triplets, said she was pleased to hear Pence effectively summarize the conservative case for the Trump presidency.
A first-generation Chinese-American immigrant, Zhi said the work ethic of immigrants like her is best rewarded by lower taxes.
“I support the conservative values,” she said.
Fewer than 10 protesters gathered nearby in Peavey Plaza, most from the Indivisible group from the Third Congressional District represented by Paulsen.
Karl Bunday, 59, from Minnetonka, is with the group, which formed in opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies. Bunday said he wants Paulsen and Pence “to hold Donald Trump accountable.”
Kris Miner, 52, of Eden Prairie, said, “I’m concerned about the implications of the tax program.” She voted twice for Paulsen because of economic issues, but she said she won’t do so again.
Star Tribune staff writer Judy Keen contributed to this story.