Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure

Democrats are growing skeptical about working with President Trump on an infrastructure deal, fearing it would help him score political points as he campaigns for reelection.

While the House Democratic Caucus sees infrastructure as a possible area for bipartisanship with Trump, they don’t want to risk the appearance of business as usual with a president who is stonewalling their probes and all but daring them to impeach him.

{mosads}At the same time, Democrats want to avoid being seen as a party whose sole interest is to investigate Trump.

They argue it’s necessary to pursue infrastructure, an issue they campaigned on last year when they won back the House, and if it’s Trump who signs an infrastructure package into law, so be it.

The competing interests present a tricky situation for Democrats agitating to hold Trump accountable.

“I do think at some level we have to be functioning as a government, obviously, while this is going on. On the other hand, it does give me some angst, the fact we’re treating what is going on around us as very normal when it’s not very normal,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) emerged from a meeting with Trump at the White House in late April saying they had agreed to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure package.

Pelosi and Schumer are scheduled to meet with Trump on Wednesday for a second round of talks, where they expect Trump to put forth his plan to pay for the proposal.

Pelosi defended working with Trump on infrastructure in a recent interview, arguing that Democrats have an obligation to try to secure an infrastructure measure despite the administration’s resistance to their investigations.

{mossecondads}“People say to me, ‘How can you go talk to him about infrastructure when they won’t give us the information for the Mueller report?’ and I say, ‘I have to.’ If we think that there’s a way that we can build the infrastructure of our country working in a bipartisan way, we have that responsibility. We can handle it. We can also make sure that the Constitution is respected,” Pelosi said on outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Chicago Stories” podcast this month.

Pelosi said Trump is talking with Democrats about infrastructure because he wants to show he can get things done. But she argued that it’s precisely what gives Democrats leverage in the talks, because Trump wants something to run on aside from the GOP’s tax overhaul enacted in 2017.

“He needs it, that gives us leverage. And I’m happy to — well, I shouldn’t ever use the word happy, but — I would be delinquent if I didn’t try to work with him to get something done for the American people,” Pelosi said.

But some progressives clamoring to oust Trump say that working with him on infrastructure is likely to backfire on Democrats.

Billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer, whose group Need to Impeach is trying to pressure Democrats to start impeachment proceedings, dismissed the infrastructure talks as a “distraction” that probably won’t yield a deal.

“By now, it should be crystal clear that Donald Trump and the Republican Party do not represent good faith partners and do not share the goal of promoting the best interests of the country. A massive infrastructure bill has no chance of clearing a Republican Senate, and this is clearly meant to serve as a distraction from the corruption that has taken root in the White House,” Steyer said in a statement to The Hill.

“Instead of participating in this charade, Democrats should begin impeachment proceedings,” he added.

Others suggested that Democratic leaders should try to work with Trump on infrastructure only to offer a policy contrast and ultimately boot him from office.

“If engaging in this meeting gives Pelosi and Schumer more mental license and political leeway to embrace impeachment hearings, that’s positive,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee spokeswoman Marissa Barrow said. “It would be a bonus if voters come to understand that, even on the infrastructure issue, Trump has a corrupt vision — selling off our roads and bridges to Wall Street and foreign investors who would put up tolls, a nice contrast with progressive priorities like a Green New Deal as we head into 2020.”

But even Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a progressive freshman who’s been one of the most outspoken House lawmakers calling for Trump’s impeachment, said Democrats should try to get something done on infrastructure.

“We still have to do our jobs,” Tlaib said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who co-chairs House Democrats’ messaging arm, said lawmakers have a “responsibility” to deliver for people in their districts while also conducting oversight, whether it’s on infrastructure or prescription drug pricing.

“If we’re going to fight for the people, we’ve got to work together to get some of this stuff done,” Dingell said.

Fixing America’s roads and bridges has long been an issue both parties say is a priority. But agreeing on how to pay for the new construction and upgrades has vexed lawmakers looking for a major bipartisan achievement.

The Trump administration previously floated a proposal for the federal government to fund 20 percent of infrastructure investment and encourage the private sector to chip in the rest. Democrats, however, want the majority of infrastructure funding to come from the government.

After Trump’s first meeting with Pelosi and Schumer on infrastructure, congressional Republicans warned that the $2 trillion price tag seemed overly ambitious, and they threatened to oppose a measure if it adds to the deficit. Many Republicans are also sure to resist any tax hikes as a way to pay for an infrastructure package, making it difficult to establish funding for even a fraction of the $2 trillion goal.

That level of opposition has led some Democrats to lower their expectations.

“I don’t think infrastructure is going to go anywhere,” Gallego said, citing resistance from GOP lawmakers.

Others, however, say Democrats should at least give it a try.

“We have to,” Dingell said.

Tags Charles Schumer Debbie Dingell Donald Trump Nancy Pelosi Rashida Tlaib Ruben Gallego Tom Steyer

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