AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Republicans are trying to look forward.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yeah, it's been a rough summer for the GOP. There was the high-profile failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And more recently, the president's divisive remarks about the violence in Charlottesville. So yesterday, a group of House Republicans rallied at the ranch of former President Ronald Reagan, outside Santa Barbara, to try and refocus the conversation on the party's next big lift - overhauling the entire federal tax code.
CHANG: Yeah, no small task. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis was at the ranch. And she joins us now, from our studios in Culver City. Hey, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So how much of this effort by House Republicans to overhaul the tax code is being overshadowed by all the fallout from President Trump's handling of Charlottesville?
DAVIS: I think fairly significantly. You know, in contrast, this was a very small earnest event where senior House Republicans are just trying to make the case for changing the tax code. This is what they call just a message push. It's part of a month-long effort that the party is encouraging lawmakers to do back home to try and provoke a conversation. What I think the past week has highlighted, in very stark terms, is that no one has a bigger megaphone than the president of United States. And it's going to be very hard to have the conversation that congressional Republicans want to have if the president doesn't share that interest.
CHANG: Was there any particular reason they wanted to have this event at the Reagan Ranch?
DAVIS: This is a bit of spiritual hallowed ground for Republicans.
DAVIS: President Reagan, of course, signed two major tax cuts. And they were part of his lasting domestic legacy. He was also, you know, for his communication skills, for his messaging skills. Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas, who's going to be a senior writer for the tax legislation, said he hoped that and believed that President Trump would be able to sell what they're trying to do to the public. And when I say it, we haven't seen a bill yet, but, of course, their plan is to do across-the-board tax cuts and simplify the tax code for every household and business in this country.
CHANG: It will be a cinch (laughter).
DAVIS: (Laughter) A piece of cake.
CHANG: So I mean, Republicans, they saw their long-promised plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act - they saw that go down in defeat. So how optimistic are they now that they can deliver on this long-promised plan to rewrite the entire tax code?
DAVIS: You know, Republicans left Washington for the summer really dejected about what happened about health care. And I think that they see this tax legislation as a chance for redemption. One of the Republicans here was David Schweikert, of - a Republican from Arizona. And he said, you know, this is an issue that is an animating force for most Republicans in Congress and that if they can get this done and vote on this, it will probably be the most significant vote of their careers. And they say, as of now, they feel a tremendous sense of unity in the party on this issue, where there's always been a greater consensus on what to do with taxes than there ever was about health care. And he hopes that unity sustains itself.
CHANG: Well, if they can't get it done, politically speaking, what is at stake for the Republican Party if they fail again and don't deliver on these tax promises?
DAVIS: Another one of the Republicans here, Peter Roskam, said that he thought that the failure would be significant. There is real concern that failing on taxes after health care could cost the Republicans their House majority. And then there's the even bigger existential crisis it could put the party into. If the Republican Party isn't capable of passing a tax cut, then what do they all really believe in? And what is the sort of unifying force behind the party?
CHANG: I guess we'll have to see what happens. Thank you so much. That's NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.