Trump And Democrats Discuss $2 Trillion Infrastructure Goal
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
So will today's tentative infrastructure deal turn into something real? We're going to tackle that question with NPR's Tamara Keith from the White House. Hey there, Tamara.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
CORNISH: And NPR's Susan Davis on Capitol Hill. Hi, Susan.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: First to you, Sue - what do we know about how this meeting came about and, frankly, how it went?
DAVIS: Well, we know that it didn't come at the request of the president. It was requested by Democrats, specifically House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She had - put in a formal request to the White House, and the president agreed to have everyone over. You know, by all accounts - everyone we've talked to today that was in the room and about this meeting says it was a serious and substantive discussion. It didn't take place in front of the TV cameras; there was no grandstanding. And there is some area of agreement.
And to that, that's progress. Right? You know, Democrats walk away saying they have this $2 trillion figure. It's really hard to kind of capture how big that number is. If you think about it, it's more than three times what the country spends for the entire budget of the military in a year. And so they have the number, but now they've put the burden on the president to do all the hard work and come up with a way to pay for it. And Democrats in the meeting said they walked away agreeing to meet again in three weeks to talk about those payments.
CORNISH: All right. Democrats are saying to the White House, you figure out how to pay for this; maybe we can cut a deal. Tamara Keith, what's the president's response been to that offer?
KEITH: Well, the White House put out a statement following the meeting. And notably, that statement said absolutely nothing about that $2 trillion figure. So I went up to the White House press office to ask around to see why it was missing, to see if it was on purpose. And they didn't want to engage on it. They said, you know, there is going to be a bigger fight to come there, and that is how it would be paid for. So let's just wait and talk about that when we get to that. That meeting is set to come in a few weeks.
The White House isn't opposed to putting something out there, coming up with ideas. But at the moment, there is no real plan. Previously, the White House, in past infrastructure weeks, had had a plan. That was put together by Gary Cohn, a former White House aide who's no longer there. And people in the White House and also a Democratic source said that the president called that plan stupid in today's meeting. That plan involved public-private partnerships. It's not clear exactly how the president would propose to pay for it. But the ideas that Democrats have floated, rolling back the president's tax cuts or raising gas taxes, those are two things that the president strongly opposes.
CORNISH: Sue Davis, how are the president's allies on Capitol Hill responding to that $2 trillion price tag?
DAVIS: They're pretty skeptical. You know, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today echoed Trump. He said rolling back the Trump tax cuts are an absolute non-starter. And Republicans really sound skeptical. Here's one that I talked to, Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, and this is what he told me.
TOM COLE: Until they actually tell us how they're going to pay for it, agreeing on a number doesn't mean very much. Telling us whether it's on the credit card, a gasoline tax, some combination of the two - I mean, there's a tremendous range of questions. So I guess it at least moves the discussion. But count me as somewhat skeptical still that they're going to be able to thrash all that out.
DAVIS: Cole did make one notable political point, though. He did say Democrats here do have an incentive to cut a deal with the president. They want something to show for their House majority when they're running for re-election in 2020, and infrastructure is always a really popular thing to go back home and say you did.
CORNISH: Today was the first time Speaker Pelosi and President Trump have met in months. And it was also their first meeting since special counsel Robert Mueller's report came out. It did not come up in today's meeting, I understand. Tam, to you - what do you know?
KEITH: Yeah - so the Democrats came out of the meeting and said that the president didn't mention the investigations. Now, this is pretty remarkable that they were there having a meeting about infrastructure with all of this hanging over.
You know, just in the last 24 hours, the president and his adult children sued congressional Democrats to try to stop some financial institutions from complying with subpoenas related to Democratic investigations. So all of this is going on at the same time.
During his State of the Union address way back, you know, a few months ago, President Trump said you can either have war and investigations or peace and legislation. But at least today, it looks like they were trying to do both.
DAVIS: You know, I would also add - on the Hill today, it was notable, at the same time, that House Democrats had their first meeting but - coming back from a two-week recess. During that time, the Mueller report came out. And after the meeting, House Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, told us that, in his words, not one moment was spent on the Mueller report in that meeting. It is a reflection, I think, of the fact that Democrats, to Tom Cole's point, want to keep - you know, want to be able to go home and campaign on things that they've actually gotten done, although Democrats also said that they will continue to keep the heat on the White House.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Susan Davis on Capitol Hill and Tamara Keith at the White House. Thank you both.
KEITH: You're welcome.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.