Democratic congressional leaders said Tuesday they reached an agreement with President Trump to seek a deal on a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, a surprising development that comes amid intense partisan warfare in Washington.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sounded a decidedly positive note after leaving a White House meeting shortly after noon, with Schumer saying “there was goodwill” on both sides toward developing a major piece of legislation.
“That was different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had,” Schumer told reporters on the North Lawn driveway. “This was a very, very good start. … We hope it will go to a constructive conclusion.”
Pelosi said both sides had “come to one agreement: that the agreement would be big and bold.”
Pelosi and Schumer cautioned that they and the White House had not agreed on how to pay for a $2 trillion package to improve the nation's roads, bridges, waterways and broadband, but they decided to meet in three weeks to solicit Trump’s ideas on funding.
Democratic lawmakers will not propose their own spending plan at the next meeting, leaving it for Trump to come up with funding options he can support, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Both leaders said the battles between the White House and Democrats over special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and lawmakers’ sweeping probes into Trump’s administration and businesses did not stymie progress.
“In previous meetings, the president has said 'if these investigations continue, I can’t work with you.’ He didn’t bring it up,” Schumer said. “The two are not mutually exclusive and we were glad he didn’t make it that way.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement roughly one hour after the meeting, saying the two sides “had an excellent and productive” discussion about rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure without mentioning the $2 trillion figure.
She also said Trump and Democratic leaders would meet again in the “near future” to discuss prescription drug pricing, in addition to the separate follow-up meeting on infrastructure funding.
The tenor of the meeting was distinctly different than the group’s last huddle in December, which ended in disaster when Trump told Schumer on live television he would take responsibility for a government shutdown.
This time, the discussion remained “very cordial” and Pelosi even accepted a Tic Tac from Trump at one point during the 90-minute, closed-door meeting, according to the Democratic aide.
Trump did veer off topic at times, according to Schumer, who said the president pressed lawmakers on multiple occasions to get moving on the revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The outcome of Tuesday’s meeting was somewhat of a shock also because top White House officials cast doubt on the prospects for a major infrastructure deal ahead of time.
“It’s not reasonable to expect the president to work with you on Monday on a big infrastructure bill and have you punching him in the face on Tuesday on 15 investigations,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said during a speech more than 2,500 miles away in Southern California while the meeting was ongoing.
Mulvaney also said he believes “there’s a much better chance” of Congress passing the new trade deal than a massive infrastructure plan.
“I hope conversations go well today but if they don’t, it would not surprise me,” he said.
Trump and members of Congress from both parties have long agreed on the need to spend more to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, but disagreements on how to pay for it and what types of projects should be included have stymied progress.
Democrats acknowledged ahead of the meeting that those disputes could derail the process. In their latest push, the party has also called for the inclusion of new taxes to generate revenue for projects and initiatives to address climate change — both of which are unpopular among Republicans.
“The package, first and foremost, needs to include substantial new and real revenue,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.), vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus. “That's what we're hoping to hear from the president today: What is his vision, and where does he see the revenues coming from?”
No congressional Republicans were invited to Tuesday’s gathering. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close Trump ally, slammed the idea of paying for an infrastructure package by hiking the gas tax and rolling back tax cuts in Trump’s 2017 signature tax law.
“The common denominator, no matter what the subject the Democrats bring up, is a tax increase,” McCarthy told reporters before the meeting. “[On] infrastructure, they’ll only agree to something unless they’re able to raise taxes.”
Trump’s apparent interest in pursuing a major infrastructure agreement is also surprising, given his post-midterm election ultimatum to Democrats that no legislation would get done if they investigate him.
“If they do that, then all it is, is a warlike posture,” the president said when asked at a Nov. 7 news conference if he would work with Democrats while under investigation.
Few in Washington believe that a landmark piece of legislation will move through Congress this year with the 2020 presidential election kicking into high gear. Ten lawmakers are currently in the Democratic presidential field, which could deter the party from wanting to give Trump a legislative victory that could boost his political standing.
But Pelosi said she had to live up to her commitment to seek bipartisan agreements that could benefit Americans.
“While we may have our difficulties in other areas. We cannot ignore the needs of the American people as we go forward,” she said.
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