Dems, Trump pull $2T surprise on infrastructure

Democratic leaders and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? 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 PelosiTrump congratulates Steve King challenger on GOP primary win The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Calls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' MORE (D-N.Y.) after what they described as a “constructive” White House meeting with Trump was greeted with heavy skepticism from lawmakers.

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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 Judiciary to hear whistleblowers on 'politicization' of Justice Dept under Trump How Trump cleared the park around the White House for church photo op Trump visits historic DC church after protesters cleared with tear gas 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-BalartHillicon Valley: Uber lays off 3,000 | FBI unlocks Pensacola shooter's phones | Lawmakers introduce bill restricting purchase of airline equipment from Chinese companies Bipartisan bill would restrict purchases of airport equipment from Chinese companies Red-state cities get cool reception from GOP on relief aid 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 McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Top GOP lawmakers invite Blue Dogs to meet with China Task Force Top GOP lawmakers invite Blue Dogs to meet with China Task Force over coronavirus probe 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 SandersMcEnany stamps her brand on White House press operation Sanders mocks NY Times urging DNC to investigate Biden allegations: 'I thought it was an Onion headline' Donald Trump: The Boomer TV president 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 CohnFormer national economic council director: I agree with 50 percent of House Democrats' HEROES Act Sunday shows preview: Congress spars over next round of coronavirus relief; GOP seeks offensive after news of Flynn 'unmasking' The Memo: Speculation grows about Fauci's future MORE, according to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDemocrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog Donald Trump is proposing attacks on Social Security and seniors; here is what we should do instead House committee investigating Carnival cruise line's response to coronavirus 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 MulvaneyMick Mulvaney12 things to know today about coronavirus Mulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic 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.