President Donald Trump and top congressional Democrats agreed Tuesday to spend $2 trillion to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges — though they punted on how exactly they’d pay for it.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed their 90-minute meeting at the White House with Trump as surprisingly productive following a series of clashes between the president and newly emboldened Democrats this year.
Story Continued Below
“It was a very constructive meeting. It’s clear that both the White House and all of us want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way,” Schumer told reporters at the White House. “And there was goodwill in this meeting, and that was different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had, which is a very good thing.”
Trump didn’t bring up House Democrats’ slew of investigations into his administration, his policies and his finances, lawmakers said, though he has previously said he wouldn’t be able to work with Democrats on legislation if they continued with their aggressive oversight.
“We’re very excited about the conversation we had with the president,” Pelosi said. “We have opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way.”
Pelosi and Schumer presented a united front as they stood outside the White House, praising Trump’s “positive attitude” and painting him as an eager partner. Other senior Democrats who attended the meeting deferred to the leaders to speak.
Both Trump and Democrats are eager for a legislative win before the 2020 elections, though it will be difficult to find consensus even on bipartisan issues like infrastructure — particularly on how to cover the cost of such massive investments.
Trump and Democrats expect to meet again in three weeks to talk about where to get the money to pay for the plan. Earlier, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway declined to say whether Trump would support an increase in the gas tax. Democrats are already floating a rollback of Trump’s signature tax law, which would presumably be a non-starter for the GOP.
The two Democratic leaders walked away with what they considered an early political victory — no televised sparring with Trump over Robert Mueller’s report into the Russia investigation. They also talked up a policy win: convincing Trump to agree to rural broadband — a key priority for the party’s moderates — as well as agreeing to the total price tag that Democrats have long touted.
“It started a little lower, even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion,” Schumer said, showing the gap between Trump and some of his advisers.
White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, the administration’s top deficit hawk, wasn’t in the meeting as Trump apparently agreed to a higher number than his other advisers were pushing and set low expectations for a deal.
Speaking in California, Mulvaney said he believed there was a much better chance of Congress passing a new trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico — another heavy lift with Democrats — than passing an infrastructure deal.
While the concept of boosting infrastructure investment has bipartisan support, the Trump administration wants to find a way to speed up projects by overhauling regulations, and Mulvaney said that’s where infrastructure talks could break down.
“I want to change the environmental laws,” he said. “How do you feel about that as a Democrat? It’s going to be a very difficult place for some of them to go.”
Sarah Ferris and Zachary Warmbrodt contributed to this report.