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Why Biden succeeded on infrastructure (and Trump didn't)

On infrastructure, Trump failed twice — first when he tried to pass his own plan, and then again when he tried to sabotage Biden's plan.


The timing of the House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package was far from ideal. If congressional leaders hoped for a large national audience, they were likely disappointed: On Friday night, the gavel came down in the House chamber at 11:24 p.m. on the east coast.

It was the next morning when President Joe Biden held a half-hour-long press conference at the White House, celebrating the legislative breakthrough. The New York Times highlighted the amusing way the Democrat began his remarks:

"Finally! Infrastructure week!" Mr. Biden declared with a broad smile from the State Dining Room, making a subtle dig at his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, whose White House perpetually promised big investments in the nation's public works, but never amassed the focus or votes.

It's easy to forget, but the former president was well positioned to succeed on infrastructure, which the Republican said was one of his top domestic priorities. But Trump just couldn't help himself.

In the first two years of Trump's presidency, when his party controlled the House and Senate — by larger margins than Democrats enjoy now — the GOP focused its energies on unnecessary tax breaks and a hapless health care crusade that ultimately failed. After the 2018 midterm election cycle, which left the House in Democratic hands, there were still hopes that an infrastructure deal was possible, and Democratic leaders were prepared to make it happen.

But as regular readers may recall, the then-president decided to attach some strings. In May 2019, however, according to Trump's own version of events, the Republican presented Democrats with an offer: The White House would work on infrastructure if Democrats agreed to stop investigating the then-president's many scandals. Democratic leaders, naturally, said that wasn't an option — they added, of course, that Congress can legislate and conduct oversight at the same time — at which point Trump abandoned the process.

Two years later, the Republican settled on a different kind of idea: If he couldn't have an infrastructure deal, then Biden shouldn't get one, either.

Indeed, Politico reported months ago that the former president was determined to "sabotage" the entire process: "Trump is trying to ensure that his successor, Joe Biden, suffers the indignity of the 'infrastructure week' jokes as well."

Except, as it turns out, Biden is the one telling the infrastructure jokes, not the one at the receiving end of the jokes.

Remember, for quite a while, Trump's efforts against this bill bordered on hysterical, even threatening primary campaigns against those who supported it.

Among the striking dimensions of this was the former president's indifference toward governing pretenses, and wholesale focus on electoral considerations. Over the summer, for example, Trump said that if Republicans reached a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, it would mean "a big and beautiful win" for people Trump doesn't like. Ergo, Republicans should defeat any compromises.

He added in late July, "This will be a victory for the Biden Administration and Democrats, and will be heavily used in the 2022 election."

In other words, successful governing might benefit the incumbent president. So as far as Trump was concerned, Republicans needed to stand in the way of successful governing, no matter the consequences.

The former president, we now know, failed twice — first when trying to pass his own infrastructure plan, and then again when trying to derail Biden's efforts. Trump, predictably, whined again over the weekend, denouncing the legislation he knows nothing about.