In an exclusive interview with International Business Times, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn, denied knowing about a controversial last-minute provision slipped into the Republican tax bill that could personally enrich him. Corker, the lone Republican to vote against the original Senate bill, which didn't include the provision, also admitted he has not read the final tax bill he announced he will support.
A trio of Democratic Senators, meanwhile, slammed the provision, which was first reported on by IBT.
Corker’s vote is considered pivotal in the closely divided Senate and he could be in a position to make or break the landmark legislation. He declared his support for the final reconciled version of the bill on Friday after GOP lawmakers added a provision that could benefit his vast real estate holdings -- a provision that Corker denied having any knowledge of.
In a series of rapid-fire telephone interviews, Corker asked IBT for a description of the provision, and then criticized it. But minutes later, he called back to walk back that criticism, saying he wanted to further study the issue, and that it was more complex than he initially understood it to be. Despite potentially holding the fate of the entire tax bill in his hands, Corker told IBT that he has only read a short summary of the $1.4 trillion legislation.
“I had like a two-page summary I went through with leadership,” said Corker. “I never saw the actual text.” Despite not reading the bill -- and having time to read it before the final vote scheduled for this week -- he reiterated his support for the bill to IBT, support he announced hours before bill’s full text was publicly released on Friday.
Corker called IBT to respond to a series of IBT investigative reports showing that he switched his vote to “yes” on the tax legislation, only after Republican leaders added in a provision reducing taxes on income from real-estate LLCs. Federal records reviewed by IBT show Corker, a commercial real estate mogul, made up to $7 million last year from such income. President Donald Trump's financial disclosures listed between $41 million and $68 million of the same income.
After the report, Corker called IBT and asked for a detailed description of the provision, insisting he did not know about. After the provision was described, he said: “If I understand what [the provision] does, it sounds totally unnecessary and borderline ridiculous.”
A few minutes later, however, Corker called back, and tried to back off that criticism.
“I don’t really know what the provision does to be honest. I would need an accountant to explain it,” Corker said. “I had no knowledge of this and would have no knowledge of it except for you guys are calling me about it. I have no idea whatsoever whether it impacts me or doesn’t impact me.”
The provision was not included in the bills that originally passed the House and Senate. Corker previously said he opposed the legislation because he was concerned about it increasing the deficit, but on Friday he announced he would support it -- even though Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation projects that the legislation will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion.
Responding to IBT's revelations, Democrats denounced the provision as a giveaway to the wealthy. Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen called the tax break "unconscionable." Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown denounced it as an example of a deal cut "for millionaires behind closed doors." Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, blasted the provision in a statment to IBT.
“This new real estate carve out was airdropped in at K Street’s bidding, widens the proposed passthrough loophole and gives away an even bigger tax cut to Trump and his wealthy friends," Wyden said. "Combined with tax cuts for the one percent, these breaks create a bonanza for the politically powerful and well-connected at the expense of the middle class.”
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