Infrastructure was supposed to be one of the few areas with some potential for bipartisan action before the 2020 election. So much for that.
Any potential now appears to be all but extinguished after President Trump abruptly blew up a White House meeting with Democratic congressional leaders on infrastructure funding after just a few minutes — reportedly before the parties had even been seated — insisting that he could not work with them until they stopped investigating him.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier in the morning told reporters that lawmakers in her party believe the president “is engaged in a cover-up” with respect to the Russia investigation.
Pelosi faces pressure from some members of her caucus to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump and made her comments after a closed-door meeting with House Democrats to discuss the ongoing probes into the president and his administration. Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated by what they see as efforts by the administration to stonewall their investigations, though Pelosi and her leadership team have mostly cautioned against impeachment.
In an unscheduled speech from the Rose Garden, albeit with printed signs about the Mueller report that were prepared after Pelosi made her comments, Trump angrily lashed out at the speaker, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats.
“I said, Let’s have the meeting on infrastructure. We’ll get that done easily — that’s one of the easy ones. And instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people who had just said that I was doing a cover-up. I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump said, again referring to the Russia investigation as a hoax and a witch hunt. "I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that — that’s what I do. But, you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances, so get these phony investigations over with."
Democrats insisted that, contrary to Trump’s claims, they were committed to working together on infrastructure and argued that it was clear the president had no intention of working with them and that his walking out of Wednesday’s meeting was a pre-planned stunt. They also pointed to a letter Trump sent to Pelosi and Schumer Tuesday night, in which he said that Congress should pass his administration’s renegotiated trade deal with Canada and Mexico before moving on to infrastructure.
“We are interested in doing infrastructure. It’s clear the president isn’t. He is looking for every excuse,” Schumer said. “Hello! There were investigations going on three weeks ago when we met, and he still met with us. But now, when he was forced to say how he would pay for it, he had to run away. And he came up with this preplanned excuse.”
The bottom line: The odds of an infrastructure deal happening this year were likely slim, since it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to reach bipartisan agreement on the details of a plan and how to pay for it. But, if it wasn’t clear before, Wednesday’s blow-up illustrates just how the ongoing investigations into the president will overshadow everything else — and how acrimonious even seemingly bipartisan efforts could get.
Still, Trump is clearly choosing where and how to invoke the idea that “you can’t investigate and legislate simultaneously”; CNBC reported Wednesday that, according to a senior White House official, must-pass pieces of legislation, including spending bills and a debt ceiling increase, will not be held up because of the investigations.