Governors bullish on infrastructure after Trump talks

Governors bullish on infrastructure after Trump talks
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The nation’s governors are increasingly hopeful that a sweeping infrastructure package is possible this year after White House talks that even some of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE’s harshest critics called surprisingly productive.

Governors who met this weekend in Washington almost universally said they were disappointed in the lack of action by a divided Congress. But they are optimistic that Congress will act to send them billions of dollars to repair roads and bridges in a matter of months.

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“It’s realistic because I think every governor is aligned on this, Republican and Democrat, and we can put pressure on that congressional delegation, Republican and Democrat, to get it done,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) told The Hill in an interview.

For most of President Trump’s two years in office, an infrastructure package has been seen as one of the few areas in which a deeply divided government could reach bipartisan consensus. Both parties appear interested in appropriating money for construction projects, though several attempts to focus attention on the issue have fallen flat, making “infrastructure week” a running joke in Washington.

But governors who could use the money have kept the pressure on. Many said they have taken heart in Trump’s consistent interest in getting a bill passed.

“Our private conversations on that have been incredible. Truly, substantively, I’ve been impressed by his, not rhetorical commitment, but his firm commitment to get serious about an infrastructure bill,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), usually a sharp critic of the Trump administration. “That is music to our ears.”

The White House on Monday hosted governors for meetings with Trump and other administration officials. One breakout session on infrastructure included Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Lobbying world Democratic chairman presses Transportation secretary over transparency in Boeing 737 Max probe MORE, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Space race is on: US can't afford congressional inaction in this critical economic sector Trump escalates fight over tax on tech giants MORE, deputy White House chief of staff Chris Liddell and Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. A bipartisan group of nine governors were involved — including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who pledged during her 2018 campaign to "fix the damn roads."

"The President wants Congress to come together and craft a bipartisan infrastructure package that rebuilds crumbling infrastructure, invests in the projects and industries of tomorrow, and promotes permitting efficiency, and he encouraged governors to weigh in with their congressional delegations," said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman. "The President looks forward to working with Members of Congress in the weeks ahead to come to a solution for the American people."

The size and shape of a potential package is still being hammered out behind closed doors. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate Tech legal shield included in USMCA despite late Pelosi push GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' MORE (D-Calif.) hopes to have a bill on the floor by May, a spokesman said. 

“The odds of a substantial infrastructure package passing Congress this year are much greater than the doubters appreciate,” said Bruce Mehlman, a Republican lobbyist who works on transportation issues. “Trump can bring the GOP, unions can bring the Democrats, it helps both rural and urban areas, could be positive for the environment and the economy, and no one seems to care about deficits anymore.”

Sticking points are likely to remain over the size of the bill, the types of infrastructure it targets, and the role of public-private partnerships in building or rebuilding some projects. Republicans tend to favor public-private partnerships more so than Democrats — but one Democratic governor said he believes Trump is on their side.

Trump “talked pretty extensively about how he didn’t like the public-private partnership piece that was in the previous Republican bill,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), recalling a January meeting Trump held with several governors-elect before they took office. “Essentially he challenged us as governors to work with our congresspeople to put together a traditional package that will assist states.”

The White House did not address specific questions about Trump's approach to public-private partnerships.