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 TrumpTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order 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 ChaoDemocrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump orders cuts in regulations that 'inhibit economic recovery' | Green group calls for Energy secretary to step down over 'redlining' comment | Daily carbon emissions drop 17 percent Trump orders agencies to cut regulations that 'inhibit economic recovery' MORE, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Government predicts busy hurricane season | Report: BLM says oil and gas operators should set their own royalty rates for public lands drilling | Michigan flooding risks damage to hazardous waste sites: report Judge sanctions DOJ for failing to disclose documents in citizenship question case Government predicts busy Atlantic hurricane season 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 PelosiTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' Federal aid to state and local governments should rely on real numbers 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.