CHICAGO — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is scheduled to introduce Vice President Mike Pence at a forum promoting federal tax cuts in Rosemont on Friday, the closest public association the re-election seeking governor has yet shown to President Donald Trump's White House.
Rauner aides confirmed the governor's appearance with Pence at the "Tax Cuts to Put America First" event at the Westin O'Hare hotel. The event is being sponsored by America First Policies, a non-profit group with the goals of promoting Trump's policies.
The governor's appearance comes as the he seeks to unify a disparate Republican base as the intense fall campaign season nears. Though narrowly winning the March primary nomination, Rauner was faulted by challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, for not supporting the president. Conservative Party candidate state Sen. Sam McCann has renewed that criticism.
For much of his first term, Rauner strenuously has avoided any mention of Trump and did not attend the 2016 Republican convention that nominated the president. Rauner also has declined to comment on many Trump controversies or give his opinion on many national issues with ramifications for Illinois.
But there have been some subtle changes over time.
In November, Rauner said he was "applauding" congressional Republican efforts to overhaul the federal tax code, a subject being promoted at the Friday event. That came after weeks of declining to take a position on the issue, including its eventual limitations on the deduction of state and local property taxes that is expected to affect many Illinois homeowners.
Earlier this week, Rauner tweeted his approval of Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the judge "has impressive credentials and he deserves a fair hearing and swift vote on his nomination." The White House included Rauner's comments in an email touting endorsements for the pick.
But Rauner also has criticized Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy leading to the separation of migrant children from families at the border. Rauner has long called for unspecific comprehensive immigration reform, but last month said "separating families is not the right answer."
America First Policies' agenda also includes a tougher U.S. stance on trade, including a "focus on bilateral rather than multilateral negotiations." But Rauner and other Republicans, particularly those in major agricultural states, have been critical of Trump creating a trade war over the imposition of tariffs.
The governor decision to introduce Pence in Rosemont drew criticism from Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker, who previously has labeled the Republican governor a "silent partner" to Trump.
"Rauner has spent the last few months cozying up to Donald Trump, praising his policies, and getting support from his top Illinois fundraiser's SuperPAC, but now he's taking their partnership to the next level by campaigning with his VP," the Pritzker campaign said in a statement. The campaign was referring to Pritzker attack ads being run by a PAC formerly headed by Ron Gidwitz, Trump's Illinois campaign finance chair and now U.S. ambassador to Belgium.
"While Rauner ranges from Trump's silent partner to his proud, vocal supporter, campaigning with Trump's VP brings their alliance to new heights," Pritzker spokesman Jason Rubin said.
Rauner has an association with Pence, the former Indiana governor before being selected by Trump as vice president. Pence's chief of staff is Nick Ayers, who also was a former top strategist for Rauner's 2014 governor campaign.
Ayers is among the campaign aides that created America First Policies in 2017 as a promotional vehicle for Trump's agenda, including toughening the nation's borders and the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Earlier this week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a complaint filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission included Ayers discussing asking for campaign money from "restricted donors" while advising the campaign of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in May.
Pence's visit is part of a three-state fundraising swing for potentially vulnerable House Republicans from districts that backed Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 presidential, including Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton. Other fundraisers in Kansas City and Cedar Rapids are set to benefit Reps. Kevin Yoder of Kansas and Rod Blum of Iowa.
Roskam, who has served in Congress since 2007, previously was tax policy chair of the House Ways & Means Committee that was instrumental in the federal tax code rewrite.
Rauner will not be attending the Roskam fundraiser, and the congressman is scheduled to remain in Washington.