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Looking for a win, the White House turns back to infrastructure

The White House still thinks it can revive the president's infrastructure plan. There's ample reason for skepticism.
Snow slows down traffic on Interstate 40, Jan. 22, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. A blizzard menacing the Eastern United States started dumping snow in Virginia, Tennessee and other parts of the South. (Photo by Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean/AP)
Snow slows down traffic on Interstate 40, Jan. 22, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. A blizzard menacing the Eastern United States started dumping snow in Virginia, Tennessee and other parts of the South. 

Last May, the White House conceded that Donald Trump's infrastructure package was dead, at least in the last Congress. The news surprised no one: a month earlier, DJ Gribbin, the White House's top infrastructure adviser, announced his resignation, apparently because he had so little to do.

The demise of Donald Trump's plan was welcome, largely because it was based on bizarre arithmetic. According to the president and his team, the administration could spur $1.5 trillion in investments by spending $200 billion, nearly all of which would come from cuts to other transportation priorities.

Even the Republican-led Congress found the plan too misguided to seriously consider; "Infrastructure Week" became a popular punch-line; and the issue faded from the political world's radar. Reuters reports today, however, that it's poised for a comeback.

U.S. President Donald Trump is reviving efforts to win approval for a significant infrastructure plan lasting up to 13 years, two people briefed on the matter said, as the administration seeks to bring a long-stalled campaign promise back to life.In a meeting of top advisers at the White House on Tuesday, the sources, who declined to be identified since the meeting was not public, said participants discussed aspects of a potential infrastructure plan and whether to include details of it in Trump's State of the Union address scheduled for later this month.About 20 officials took part in the more than hour-long meeting with Trump, including Vice President Mike Pence, White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the sources said.

This makes a degree of political sense. Trump's legislative agenda, such as it is, appeared to effectively die the moment Democrats won the House majority. Desperate for a win and something that might shift attention away from the president's scandals, Team Trump is returning to the one major issue that, in theory, could garner bipartisan backing.

The trouble is, this almost certainly won't work.

For one thing, congressional Republicans still don't want to tackle the issue. The week after the midterm elections, Politico  reported, "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday flatly rejected the idea of doing a big infrastructure deal with Democrats. 'Republicans are not interested in a $900 billion stimulus,' he told reporters."

And even if Trump could sway his GOP allies to be more cooperative, Democrats have their own ideas on the issue. The Washington Post  reported in early December, "Democratic congressional leaders are insisting that any deal cut with President Trump on legislation to rebuild the nation's ailing infrastructure include provisions intended to promote clean energy and combat climate change."

Obviously, Trump would welcome legislative success on any issue, but ahead of next year's presidential election, a triumph on a popular national priority such as infrastructure would give the Republican something meaningful to brag about.

But under the circumstances, I'd recommend that the president not get his hopes up.