‘We’re very excited about the conversation we had with the president…’
(Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times) There were no TV cameras this time, no accusations of bad faith, or anyone tossing binders or storming out.
Instead, unlike their December and January clashes in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump met Tuesday for 90 minutes with the Democratic leaders he’s dubbed “Chuck and Nancy” in what both sides called a productive discussion about a comprehensive infrastructure package.
When it ended, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer expressed optimism, not frustration, and announced that participants had agreed to seek a $2 trillion legislative package to repair and improve the nation’s roads, bridges and broadband networks.
“We came to this meeting with an understanding that there’s a great need in our country for rebuilding our infrastructure,” said Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat. “We’re very excited about the conversation we had with the president.”
The White House also seemed pleased, although it did not publicly confirm the $2 trillion price tag. In a statement, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had “an excellent and productive meeting” with the Democrats.
“The United States has not come even close to properly investing in infrastructure for many years, foolishly prioritizing the interests of other countries over our own,” she said. “We have to invest in this country’s future and bring our infrastructure to a level better than it has ever been before. We will have another meeting in three weeks to discuss specific proposals and financing methods.”
The sticky part is figuring out whether the $2 trillion would come from new taxes or other means. Republicans, who control the Senate, generally oppose increasing the gas tax to pay for infrastructure, although Trump may be open to it.
“We told the president that we needed his ideas on funding,” said Schumer, D-N.Y. He called the meeting a “good and constructive start.”
The rare show of bipartisanship on both sides may not last. Democrats have left meetings with Trump in the past believing they had reached an agreement only for the president later to claim otherwise.
In 2017, Pelosi and Schumer emerged from a sit-down with Trump and announced they had agreed on parameters of a major compromise on border security and immigration reform. It would include $25 billion for border security measures in exchange for Trump maintaining deferred deportation for young immigrants in the country illegally, but Trump quickly reneged.
Trump, who on Monday sued to prevent Deutsche Bank from responding to Democrats’ subpoenas of his banking records, did not complain during the meeting about the multiple House-led investigations targeting him, according to Pelosi and Schumer.
“In previous meetings, the president has said, ‘If these investigations continue, I can’t work with you,'” Schumer said. He added that in his view, Democrats can work with the president on policy while simultaneously investigating him. “The two are not mutually exclusive and we were glad he didn’t make it that way.”
While the meeting was underway, however, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, expressed the opposite position, citing the Democratic investigations as a major impediment to legislative cooperation.
“To have an impeachment hearing on Monday, say, and then to think you’re going to talk infrastructure on Tuesday, that’s not how the world works, let alone Washington, D.C.,” Mulvaney said at a conference in Los Angeles.
Pelosi has so far blocked any moves toward impeachment proceedings in the House, so no such hearings are underway or scheduled.
Mulvaney also accused Democrats of meeting with Trump to make it appear that they are more willing to work with the president than they actually are.
“Do I think there’s an interest in doing this? Yes,” he said. “Do I think there’s more interest, especially on the Democrats’ part, to make a show for trying to get a deal? Yeah. I hope conversations go well today but if they don’t, it would not surprise me.”
Since it will focus on funding mechanisms, the next infrastructure meeting will no doubt be more difficult than Tuesday’s, although Democrats laid out only three broad principles in a letter to Trump on Monday. It outlined government funding, environmental considerations and Buy American provisions as key priorities.
Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., vice chairwoman of the House Democratic caucus, said raising the gas tax or rescinding corporate tax cuts granted under the 2017 Republican tax bill are worth considering, but that Democrats weren’t ready to push for any specific funding mechanism yet.
Whether the acrimonious relationship between House Democrats and Trump prevents them from getting an infrastructure package done “is going to be 100 percent up to the president,” Clark told reporters.
Some Democrats have questioned the political wisdom of working with Trump and potentially giving him a legislative win ahead of the 2020 presidential election, but Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Democratic caucus, dismissed that argument.
“The political chips will fall where they may,” he told reporters. “Our job is to get things done. And if we can reach a meaningful bipartisan infrastructure bill that helps fix our crumbling bridges, roads, tunnels, and mass transportation system, that is a win for the American people.”
(Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.)
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