President Trump's battle with the Democratic leadership over funding for his border wall has been perhaps the most rancorous political fight since the dawn of his administration - eclipsing even the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And though the government remains shut down with no accord in sight, the president and a coterie of his senior advisors are already planning to revive their push for Trump's promised infrastructure package - one of the few issues where Democrats and Republicans are expected to find a measure of comity.
According to a Reuters report about the meeting - which the White House confirmed did indeed happen, though it refused to comment on the details - the president is preparing to revive his push for a 13-year infrastructure spending spree, and whether to include details about the broad strokes during Trump's State of the Union address later this month. The plan is expected to focus on revitalizing US airports, highways, railroads and other essential infrastructure.
Roughly 20 senior officials participated in the two-hour-plus meeting, including Vice President Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao were also in attendance.
The meeting apparently didn't yield much in terms of an agreement on a unified plan, but some of the details discussed included:
- How to incorporate funding for a next-generation wireless network, known as 5G, and how to potentially use the plan to modernize the U.S. air traffic control system.
- Various options for paying for the infrastructure plan, though the administration didn't settle on anything. As part of a plan floated last year that was rejected by the Democrats, Trump had proposed a $200 billion federal spend that would be used a springboard to attract a total of $1.5 trillion in funding (some would be paid by municipalities and states, some by private sources).
- Different issues that should be addressed by the 13-year time frame.
- How much, if any, of last year's plan to incorporate in the new proposal.
Another meeting about whether to include the infrastructure plan during Trump's SOTU address will likely be held in the near future. Any reference might be limited to Trump addressing his willingness to work with Democrats on the plan.
While both parties agree on the need for an infrastructure plan, Democrats have insisted that any spending be accompanied by new federal revenue.
Democratic U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants the White House to back significant additional federal funds to rebuild crumbling U.S. roads, bridges and airports.
"There has to be real money, real investment," DeFazio said in November. "We’re not going to do pretend stuff like asset recycling. We’re not going to do massive privatization."
Whatever happens, as Trump gears up for his 2020 reelection campaign, expect his administration's infrastructure push to begin long before campaign season kicks off.