Though the news was understandably lost between President Trump threatening nuclear war on Twitter, trying to ban a tell-all book about his administration, and proclaiming himself a genius, over the weekend Republican congressional leaders huddled with the president to map out their 2018 agenda.
When last we left our heroes, they were giddy about the passage of their tax bill, and trying to decide whether to pursue welfare reform or infrastructure next — though both policies have little chance of passing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already dashed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s dreams of targeting the poorest Americans in 2018, and on Saturday Trump seemed to do the same.
“It’s a subject that’s very dear to our heart,” Trump said of welfare reform, after emerging from the Camp David retreat. “We’ll try and do something in a bipartisan way. Otherwise, we’ll be holding it for a little bit later.”
One might think that means the long-promised infrastructure plan is a go. Before the holidays, the Trump administration was said to be finalizing its 70-page plan for release in mid-January, and White House officials had begun offering a preview. Trump policy adviser D.J. Gribbin said the “incentive program” would put up $200 billion in federal seed money in the hopes of attracting $800 billion in spending from state and local governments, and private-public partnerships.
But there’s a problem: Trump told GOP leaders on Friday that he doesn’t think relying on public-private partnerships to fund infrastructure projects will work.
Or maybe there isn’t a problem? On Friday Gary Cohn, the director of Trump’s National Economic Council, told Fox Business, “January’s going to be a big month for us on infrastructure.” The next day he described the plan in detail — including public-private partnerships — to those assembled at Camp David.
White House officials and Hill aides confirmed the president’s comments. Another White House official briefed on the comments said that Trump was musing aloud and that the administration still planned to pursue public-private partnerships for infrastructure. This person, though, said Trump had continually expressed skepticism behind the scenes about such a plan.
“He doesn’t think they will work,” this person said.
In a statement issued on Sunday night, White House press secretary Lindsay Walters seemed to confirm the infrastructure plan is unchanged. “The president’s infrastructure vision is very clear and is based around two main goals: leveraging federal funds as efficiently as possible in order to generate over $1 trillion in infrastructure investment and expediting the burdensome and lengthy permitting process,” she said.
So now in addition to promoting an infrastructure plan that’s probably going nowhere in Congress, White House officials will have to explain why their boss seems to show little enthusiasm for a plan they’ve been crafting for months. It’s becoming more apparent why Cohn, when asked how long he’ll stay at the White House, said on Friday, “I’m here today.”