As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer sat down with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday to talk about an infrastructure bill, Trump’s acting chief of staff explained why they were wasting their time.
“Is an infrastructure deal realistic in 2019?” Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo asked Mick Mulvaney onstage at a Milken Institute event in California.
“Uhhh,” Mulvaney replied with a doubtful smile. He said Democrats want to “make a show,” but agreement “breaks down” over the administration’s determination to change environmental laws and other regulations. Anything else is “not acceptable to this president,” Mulvaney said, predicting that even the embattled trade deal Trump negotiated with Mexico and Canada has “a much better chance” of approval than an infrastructure deal.
Poof! There goes another Infrastructure Week.
For more than two years, Trump has been trying to roll out a giant infrastructure plan, as he promised during the campaign. At every step, the idea has faltered.
In June 2017, Trump pitched the framework of an infrastructure plan — but former FBI director James B. Comey’s testimony before the Senate immediately overshadowed the effort.
Trump tried again in August 2017 — but Trump’s response to the racist violence in Charlottesville totally eclipsed the effort.
A third attempt came in February 2018 — and was trampled by the resignation of a White House official over domestic-abuse allegations, the Parkland, Florida, shooting, the indictment of Russian internet trolls and allegations of affairs by Trump.
With those and other false starts, “Infrastructure Week” has become a euphemism for the erratic nature of Trump’s presidency, which is in constant crisis but rarely gets stuff done. Each attempt to rally support for urgently needed infrastructure spending has been stepped on — usually by Trump himself.
The online Urban Dictionary defines Infrastructure Week as “a repeatedly failed attempt to stay on-task endlessly derailed by high-profile distractions caused by one’s own ineptitude.” National Journal reports some confusion between the original Infrastructure Week, an industry conference each May, and “the White House’s many futile attempts at its own.”
Trump tried to stick to his script Tuesday. He didn’t let cameras into his meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, avoiding the debacle that occurred at their last meeting, before the government shutdown. The two Democrats emerged full of optimism.
“That agreement would be big and bold,” Pelosi said of their agreement to spend $2 trillion over 10 years. “The leader from the Senate will announce how big and how bold.”
“Big and bold,” Schumer repeated. “This kind of a big, bold bill that we could pass would make America a better place,” he added.
They postponed for three weeks the contentious issue of how to pay for the big, bold bill.
But within minutes, Trump was tweeting about other matters: complaining about the Fed, criticizing European allies, threatening a “complete” embargo of Cuba and encouraging Juan Guaido’s uprising against the Venezuelan government.
Doesn’t Guaido know this is Infrastructure Week?
The website Jalopnik has chronicled Infrastructure Week’s torturous path since Trump’s campaign promise to deliver an infrastructure plan in his first 100 days.
Feb. 23, 2017: “Trump Trillion-Dollar Infrastructure Package Likely to Be Delayed.”
May 1, 2017: “Infrastructure plan ‘largely completed,’ coming in 2-3 weeks.”
June 5, 2017: “Trump opens ‘infrastructure week’ without a plan.”
Oct. 9, 2017: “9 Months into Presidency, Trump Still Hasn’t Offered Infrastructure Plan.”
Dec. 14, 2017: “Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Is Almost Done — and Already Dead.”
Jan. 24, 2018: “Trump Could Reveal Long-Promised Infrastructure Plan within Two Weeks.”
Back in June 2017, before the phrase became a punchline, Vice President Mike Pence proclaimed that “we’re actually calling it Infrastructure Week in this administration.” At the time, Trump predicted that infrastructure spending would “take off like a rocket ship.”
Or not. A couple of months later, Trump reiterated, “No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay.” But the crumbling continued.
A 53-page, $1.5 trillion plan Trump offered in February 2018 went nowhere, largely because it offered just $200 billion in federal funds.
Now, in the latest iteration of Infrastructure Week, Trump has no proposal. In Tuesday’s session, which both sides called productive, he readily agreed with Democrats on the $2 trillion target, and they put off the hard decisions for another day.
But by the time they announced the agreement, Mulvaney had already pronounced the latest infrastructure gambit an exercise in masochism. “Oww,” he said, gingerly taking his seat onstage at the Milken conference. “Kidney stones,” he reported. He paused. “It was a fun night,” he said. “But it’s better than going to the meeting with Chuck and Nancy at the White House.”
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter: @Milbank.