Dems, Trump pull $2T surprise on infrastructure

Democratic leaders and President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE pulled a surprise on Tuesday, by reaching a deal to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure package despite rising tensions over congressional probes into the White House that have sparked a debate over impeachment.

The optimism voiced by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNYT's Friedman repeatedly says 's---hole' in tirade against Trump on CNN GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets 'obviously not racist' On the USMCA, Pelosi can't take yes for an answer MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNYT: Don't make Acosta a political martyr Charities say they never received donations touted by Jeffrey Epstein: report Schumer to donate Epstein campaign contributions to groups fighting sexual violence MORE (D-N.Y.) after what they described as a “constructive” White House meeting with Trump was greeted with heavy skepticism from lawmakers.

ADVERTISEMENT

They noted that GOP lawmakers were not even invited to the meeting, and that there was no agreement on how to pay for the costly plan. 

But for a day, at least, the emphasis from Pelosi and Schumer was on what was possible with the White House, and the Speaker said both sides had decided an infrastructure deal should “be big and bold.”

Schumer said Tuesday’s meeting stood in contrast to those held before the government shutdown earlier this year, when Trump and the Democratic leaders were seen on camera bickering in the White House.

“There was goodwill in this meeting, and that was different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had, which is a very good thing,” Schumer told reporters after a 90-minute huddle with Trump and his advisers.

Congressional Republicans say they are unlikely to support a $2 trillion infrastructure package, something that could doom its chances in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“How this could be achieved in a fiscally responsible way remains the biggest question,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran Live coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a close Trump ally, told The Hill. “Traditional methods for this increased investment would meet substantial pushback.”

“The devil is always in the details,” added Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record House passes amendment to block funding for transgender troops ban House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' MORE (R-Fla.), the top Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing transportation spending.

The two sides are set to meet again in three weeks, but there were signs of disagreement on the nature of that meeting.

Democratic lawmakers do not intend to propose their own funding plan and say they expect to hear funding ideas from Trump that he and the Senate can support, according to a senior Democratic aide who was in the room on Tuesday.

But a senior White House official disputed that characterization, saying the expectation is for both sides to come to the table with funding ideas and discuss them together.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThis week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Social media summit highlights partisan approaches on tech House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump MORE (R-Calif.) said after Democrats released their wish list for an infrastructure deal on Monday that his party could not stomach the idea of paying for it by hiking the gas tax and rolling back 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.

White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersBiden pledges return to daily press briefings as president Sarah Sanders: I will walk out of the White House 'with my head held high' Trump directs Pentagon to develop policy allowing service academy athletes to go pro right away MORE Sanders said in a statement that the two sides “had an excellent and productive” discussion about an infrastructure package but did not mention the $2 trillion figure. She said the next discussion would focus on “specific proposals and financing methods.”

Democrats pitched a plan in which the federal government would pay for 80 percent of a project while local governments would pick up 20 percent of the tab, essentially maintaining the status quo ratio for surface transportation projects, while also including a public-private partnership element.

Trump did not accept that but said he would consider his own funding scheme, according to Schumer.

The White House in 2018 released a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, under which city, state and local governments would provide 80 percent of project funding, including through private investment, while the federal government would kick in 20 percent.

But Trump said in Tuesday’s meeting he likes the $2 trillion number because he thinks it sounds better than lower figures, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

“I like the number you’ve been using, Nancy. Two trillion,” Trump said, according to a Democratic source. “Two trillion. That number you can talk about.”

The president also declared he “never supported” his own White House’s previous plan, calling it “Gary's thing,” a reference to former top White House economic adviser Gary CohnGary David Cohn'I alone can fix it,' Trump said, but has he? The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report MORE, according to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Deadline approaches for 2020 Dems Dems eye big infrastructure package, with or without Trump Dems, Trump pull T surprise on infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.), who was in the room.

A Democratic source added that Trump voiced opposition to the idea of a public-private partnership because “you get sued.”

“That bill was so stupid,” Trump said, according to the source, who said the president again stressed it “was a Gary bill.”

After four months of divided government, Tuesday’s meeting provided the first sign that both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue may be capable of working together on major legislation.

The discussion remained “very cordial,” with Pelosi even accepting a Tic Tac from Trump at one point, 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. Officials from both sides said they also agreed during the meeting to pick up the pace of work on lowering prescription drug prices. A Democratic source said Trump also raised the issue of immigration at the top of the meeting.

But leaders said the battles between the White House and Democrats over special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s report and the House’s sweeping probes into Trump did not come up, even though the president has repeatedly railed against them in public.

“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.”

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.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Acosta out as Trump Labor secretary Pelosi reportedly told Trump deputy: 'What was your name, dear?' MORE, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, has also been skeptical.

“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,” he told an audience at an event in Southern California.

DeFazio quipped of the constructive White House meeting: “Today Mulvaney wasn't there, luckily.”

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.

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.

Alexander Bolton and Naomi Jagoda contributed.