NEW YORK (AP) – President Donald Trump endorsed a congressman facing a tough primary battle, but in doing so he misstated the New York Republican’s record on taxes.
In a tweet Wednesday, Trump said U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan is “strong on Borders,” ”loves our Military” and “voted for Tax Cuts.” Yet Donovan was one of only a few Republicans who voted against the Trump-backed tax law that passed last year.
Donovan defended the vote Thursday, saying the legislation slashed deductions for state and local taxes, which would lead to higher tax bills for many New Yorkers.
“The president was well aware. We’ve had discussions about my tax vote, the president and I,” Donovan told The Associated Press.
Donovan is facing a challenge from former U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, who resigned after pleading guilty to tax fraud in 2015.
Grimm has run an aggressive campaign questioning Donovan’s loyalty to Trump. He suggested Thursday that the president may have misstated Donovan’s vote on taxes intentionally to highlight his break from the GOP.
“If you look at all the media coverage, it’s all about actually Donovan voted against the tax bill,” Grimm said in an interview with The Associated Press. “In my opinion, that was done by design. The president is a genius marketer. He doesn’t make mistakes like that.”
The president’s endorsement of Donovan, however, was bad news for Grimm, a convicted felon who has struggled to earn the backing of his own party’s leadership. Trump’s show of support comes days after the president’s attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, endorsed Donovan as well.
Donovan said he first spoke to Trump about the race last week while flying back to Washington aboard Air Force One after a joint appearance in New York. The president also called Donovan on Wednesday night after posting the tweet.
“He was very encouraging. I told him we are here to help move his agenda forward,” Donovan said.
The endorsement was the result of roughly two months of discussions between the White House and Donovan’s campaign, according to Donovan spokeswoman Jessica Proud. She said the specific content of the tweet was not discussed ahead of time.
The New York GOP primary election is June 26.
Donovan said the president has “put to bed” Grimm’s charge that he’s not sufficiently loyal to Trump.
“It allows the people who have been hearing the false narrative from my opponent to realize that it was false, that he was again trying to deceive them about my relationship with the president, my support of the president,” Donovan told the AP.
Grimm was unmoved.
“In a strange way, we might even get a bump out of this,” Grimm said. “It’s kind of invigorated our base a little bit because they want to show President Trump that he’s backing the wrong horse.”