In their first major bid to force Trump’s hand on a policy issue where the President’s populism is at odds with congressional GOP leadership, top Democrats unveiled their infrastructure package Tuesday.
“We have heard Mr. Trump’s talk of disaster and third-world infrastructure, and we agree something must be done. So we hope the President will join us,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference unveiling the proposal Tuesday. “And we call on the President to persuade his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to drop their opposition to investing in infrastructure and get on board with this plan.”
The issue could become an early test of whether Trump’s willingness during the campaign to break with Republican leaders has carried into the White House — or if he will show patience for GOP lawmakers through a lengthy legislative process and instead target Democrats.
Before his inauguration, Trump made clear he intended to elevate Schumer as his chief opponent on Capitol Hill — tweeting that his fellow New Yorker is Democrats’ “head clown.”
But on Inauguration Day, the two were seen speaking at length at a congressional luncheon for Trump.
The two evidently got along Monday when Trump called both parties’ House and Senate leaders to the White House for a meeting, too.
“I enjoyed the President and Sen. Schumer talking about all the people they knew in New York,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, deadpanned after Monday’s meeting.
Schumer said he’s spoken with Trump at length about infrastructure, too.
“I told him repeatedly, ‘If you want to do a bill like this, you’re going to have to tell a lot of your Republicans — particularly on the right wing — that they’re not going to get their way,’ ” Schumer said. “And he acknowledged that. So we’ll see what happens.”
Tuesday’s $1 trillion proposal would potentially create 15 million jobs over 10 years, Democrats said. It includes $210 billion for road and bridge repair, $110 billion for water and sewer programs, $180 billion for rail and bus systems, $200 billion for new projects deemed as vital, $75 billion to rebuild schools, $70 billion for ports and $100 billion for energy grid upgrades.
Democrats said they were insisting on using tax dollars to pay for the package, rather than tax credits, as Trump advisers and Republicans have floated.
“President Trump campaigned on rebuilding the infrastructure,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said at Tuesday’s news conference. “Let’s do it — but let’s do it in a way that doesn’t provide huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country and to large corporations.”
Congressional Republicans for years rejected former President Barack Obama’s requests for more money for improvements to the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and waterways.
But Trump has sided with Obama — and even as his aides insist public-private partnerships and tax credits can be used to fulfill the President’s vision, he has pledged to eliminate graft, simplify the tax code and embark on an ambitious infrastructure project.
“We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation,” Trump vowed in his inaugural address.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters that Republicans are waiting for the Trump administration — including McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, the nominee for transportation secretary — to present an infrastructure proposal.
“My understanding is the administration has a team who are putting together a proposal that we can all take a look at. That includes people both inside the administration and I think the secretary of transportation. And they’re going to come up with a proposal. We’ll take a look at it,” McConnell said.
“I hope it will be something credibly paid for,” he said. “We have a $21 trillion debt. But I think we would all like to tackle infrastructure in a credible way and hopefully that’s what they’ll recommend.”
Dems look to drive wedge
Schumer and Senate Democrats are hoping to quickly drive a wedge between Trump and Republican lawmakers — denying them time to figure out how to structure and pay for a major infrastructure bill.
The move is aimed squarely at separating Trump’s blue-collar supporters from congressional Republicans.
“That is something that congressional Democrats have sought for years, but congressional Republicans have stymied us at every turn,” Schumer said Tuesday.
It comes with Trump already using his executive power and visibility to take concrete steps to impress his Midwestern base — pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, setting a start for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and taking executive action to advance the Keystone XL pipeline.
Labor unions, traditionally a key Democratic ally, had long sought those moves — but Democratic leaders, including former President Barack Obama and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, resisted.
Labor union leaders also visited Trump in the White House on Monday.
Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the powerhouse union that endorsed Clinton, heaped praise on Trump for pulling out of the TPP, calling it “an important first step toward a trade policy that works for working people.”
Trump’s early maneuverings have left Democrats sensing danger — but also seeing an opening. Trump’s moves on trade were criticized by Capitol Hill Republicans. And his calls for a massive infrastructure project have triggered GOP concerns about such a program’s price tag.
Democrats see the need to exploit that divide quickly: In the 2018 midterm elections, Democratic-held Senate seats are on the ballot in nearly every state in the industrial Midwest, where Trump’s popularity with white, working-class voters carried him to the presidency.
The party hopes Trump, already unpopular for a new president, will be toxic by the midterms — with many Democrats pointing to Saturday’s women’s marches and the higher-than-expected turnout at pro-Obamacare rallies as evidence that the political tide is changing.
But as a hedge, Democrats are seeking ways to split GOP lawmakers from Trump — giving their members ways to accuse Republicans of rejecting popular elements of Trump’s platform that Democrats support.