DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We are expecting to learn more about the Republican tax plan next week when lawmakers introduce their bill in the House. The question is, can this bill overcome growing tensions within the party? This week retiring Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker blasted President Trump's leadership.
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BOB CORKER: I think the debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for.
GREENE: That was Corker there. Now, Senator John Thune of South Dakota is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. And I spoke with him about those tensions in the party. We began, though, with the GOP's argument that their tax plan is going to bring relief to middle-class families.
JOHN THUNE: I think you're going to see, when this thing actually is written, that if you're a middle-income taxpayer, you're going to benefit from a doubling of the standard deduction. You're going to benefit from lower rates. You're going to benefit from an expansion of the child tax credit. And then also, you're going to get the added benefit of the higher wages that come from reducing the taxes on businesses in this country that enable them to invest and expand their businesses.
GREENE: I'm glad you brought that up. I mean, the argument from the White House and Republicans is that most of the savings from corporate tax cuts will ultimately flow to workers. The Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Committee on Taxation - they disagree. They say the lion's share of the savings will go to the business owners. Many of them are upper income. So I mean, which side are you on here?
THUNE: Well, I think that there are - frankly, there are limited options that you have. If you're a business and you end up paying less in taxes, you can plow that back into the business. You can pay it out in dividends to shareholders. You can raise employees' wages. And different organizations come to different conclusions, but all agree that at least some benefit of that is going to go back to employees in the form of higher wages.
GREENE: I want to ask you about some of the criticism from fellow Republican senators about President Trump in recent days. Do you agree that the president is debasing this country?
THUNE: Well, I think that the - I think the president has an entirely different style, unlike anything we've seen before. I'm not a big fan, frankly, of his use of social media platforms to get his message out. But many people are very active on social media platforms, and a lot of them get their information that way. And so that's how he communicates.
GREENE: It wasn't just about social media. I mean, you - I want to remind people - were one of the earliest Republicans to call for Donald Trump to actually drop out of the campaign after that "Access Hollywood" tape was revealed. So is - do you still have some serious concerns that we heard about back then?
THUNE: Well, look, I mean, I - there at that particular time, yes, I thought that it was going to be very difficult for him to recover from some of those things. But, you know, it became eventually a binary choice between him and Hillary Clinton. And obviously, he represents an agenda. And the things in terms of policy that I want to accomplish sync up with this president way more than they would have with Hillary Clinton. But now that he's been elected president, we have an opportunity to do some good things for the American people.
GREENE: Are you worried, though, that the Republican agenda could actually suffer and be imperiled if you continue to have Republican colleagues who are deeply concerned about the president and make that known and cause these kinds of rifts?
THUNE: I think that there are always going to be differences of opinion and disagreements, and that's true in any family. But I just think it's better, if you can, keep those in-the-family feuds and fights within the family.
GREENE: You're saying Senator Flake and Senator Bob Corker should have kept their concerns to themselves?
THUNE: No, I just think that it would have been better if, you know, either sides in some of these disputes, if they would just have those conversations in private rather than having them in public. Senator Corker has strongly held views, as did Senator Flake. You know, both, of course, are now leaving the Senate. But those of us who are still here, I think, have a responsibility to do the best job we can to try and get results.
GREENE: Well, let me finish with a final question about results. One of the president's campaign advisers, economists Stephen Moore, actually said on our air that the party is going to look incompetent if they can't get a win on taxes. Do you agree with that?
THUNE: Well, I think that we need to get a win. And we're going to be held accountable by the American people, and we should be. We had a failure on health care. I don't think that issue's going away because I think Obamacare continues to - the markets continue to collapse and premiums continue to skyrocket. So we're going to be revisiting that issue. But right now, the focus is tax reform. If we don't deliver on that, then I think, yeah. I think we're going to pay a price for that.
GREENE: Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota joining us from his Senate office.
Senator, thanks for taking our questions. We appreciate it.
THUNE: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.