As Air Force Two departed Buffalo Niagara International Airport shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday, those familiar with Vice President Pence’s daylong visit to Erie County seemed thrilled.
More than 200 people waited to meet him upon his arrival, one of the largest airport crowds he has encountered, one source said.
Pence called a Lancaster session one of the best events the administration has experienced to tout President Trump’s tax reform plan, another source said.
And with more than $400,000 raised at a Republican fundraiser at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in Lancaster, Pence and his host — Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence — noted a hefty haul for local and national congressional efforts next year.
As Trump’s first congressional supporter in 2016 and then appearing on countless TV news programs on the president’s behalf, there was no doubt that Collins remains a key member of Congress for the president’s battles that lie ahead.
“It was crystal clear to me listening to the vice president’s remarks in what esteem they hold Chris Collins, what he means to the president and vice president, and what a key ally he will be fighting for their agenda,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy, who attended the Salvatore’s fund raiser.
“He clearly has not been forgotten.”
Though an ethics investigation into Collins’ handling of an Australian biomedical company has generated front page headlines for weeks, Pence never mentioned the controversy. The Office of Congressional Ethics has been probing Collins’ stock transactions in a company called Innate Immunotherapeutics for months and last week said violations of federal law could have occurred.
Pence, however, appeared to have other matters in mind, even plugging directly into a local tragedy during his visit just as rescuers recovered the body of Police Officer Craig Lehner, who died during a diving exercise in the Niagara River last Friday. The vice president called Lehner’s mother upon hearing the news, two sources said.
And he offered condolences during the tax reform event he hosted at Performance Advantage Co. in Lancaster.
“I want to assure all of you that this great officer and his family remain in our prayers,” he said.
Much of Tuesday centered around mutual praise between Pence and Collins as the vice president tried to make the Trump administration case the new tax overhaul will be good for average taxpayers. About 100 people crammed into the Lancaster company that makes equipment mountings for fire trucks, the military and industry for customers in 36 countries. About a dozen business types — mostly from the small business sector — told Pence about a tax system that presents one of their toughest burdens.
“We’re hearing from American families and American business about the importance of tax reform,” Pence said at the Lancaster plant. “We’re working with your congressman to get this advanced in the Congress of the United States.”
David and Colleen Basil, for example, said simplifying the tax code to a point where ordinary citizens could complete Internal Revenue Service forms looms as a major goal.
“It would be great if we did not have to fight through all this bureaucratic red tape,” David Basil said. “Simplicity is very, very important.”
Pence replied that the Basils’ observations amounted to a “great comment.”
He also said a major goal of the administration’s plan is to make tax submission an easy and painless experience.
“It’s astonishing to think that literally billions of dollars are spent by Americans every year trying to figure out what they owe the government,” he said, before asking Basil: “How’s business?”
While critics say Trump’s tax plan will protect rich taxpayers at the expense of the poor, Pence continually rained praise on the president for devising a formula he said will stimulate the economy and job creation. He noted that Richard and Rachel Budde will encounter a better situation when filing taxes from their Goodrich Coffee and Tea business in Clarence.
“I appreciate your comments about the president’s plan,” he said at the end of the event. “First and foremost, this is about having more money to put in your pockets ... or to invest in your business. Making sure we have a tax code that encourages investment is very, very significant.
“I’m incredibly inspired, and I make this promise to you — help is on the way,” he added. “We are going to pass the largest tax cut in American history and we’re going to pass it this year.”
But Tuesday also emerged as a day of political struggle. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer attacked the Trump plan in two statements even before the vice president arrived.
“Eliminating the state and local deduction, while slashing taxes for the wealthy and huge corporations, will hurt middle-class taxpayers, and various attempts at a ‘compromise’ are just as bad,” Schumer said. “If the Republicans cap the state and local deduction too high, they will still blow a huge hole in the deficit. Cap it too low, and they’ll continue socking it to the middle class.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also weighed in, attacking Pence’s Buffalo agenda during an appearance in Plattsburgh. He said the GOP was trying to use “New York as a piggy bank” especially with its plan to eliminate deductions for state and local taxes.
“Why would you do this to the people of New York?” he asked.
Tom Perez could not resist a jab either, as Pence visited the Democratic national chairman’s hometown.
“Buffalo is called the ‘City of Good Neighbors’ because we take care of each other and always keep the ladder down for others,” Perez said. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence don’t share those values, but the American people do – and so does the Democratic Party.”
About 80 people protested outside Salvatore’s as Pence arrived for the fundraiser.
“This is what democracy looks like,” the crowd chanted as the vice presidential motorcade passed by.