Over the summer, as the bipartisan infrastructure package cleared the Senate, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio came up with a curious pitch. The Ohioan, who's retiring at the end of next year and who helped negotiate the bipartisan deal, tried to suggest — both in the media and on the Senate floor — that Donald Trump deserves at least some credit for the legislation.
It was, to be sure, a comical argument. But as we discussed in August, Portman's rhetoric seemed to include an implicit recommendation: The senator was effectively telling the former president, "Stop attacking the infrastructure compromise and start pretending it was your idea."
Trump, not surprisingly, ignored the advice and worked furiously to try to derail the bill — not because it was flawed, but because he didn't want President Joe Biden to get "a big and beautiful win" that might benefit Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.
As it turns out, Portman wasn't alone in trying to shift credit to Trump. Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York — one of 13 GOP House members who supported the bipartisan package — appeared on CNN yesterday morning and was asked why Biden was finally able to get an infrastructure bill through Congress after Trump tried and failed to do the same thing. The congresswoman replied:
"Well, I think at the end of the day, look, President Trump laid the groundwork for this infrastructure to pass. He also wanted $1 trillion in spending into America's infrastructure.... So, I'm happy and I'm appreciative to President Trump for being one of the first to really talk about the need for infrastructure."
By all appearances, Malliotakis wasn't kidding. She genuinely seemed to expect viewers to believe that Trump deserves some credit for the bill he opposed, condemned, and tried to defeat.
Part of the problem is that the argument is impossible to take seriously. The former president sought an ambitious infrastructure package, but he failed spectacularly and abandoned his own plan when he concluded it might spite congressional Democrats.
Similarly, the idea that Trump was "one of the first to really talk about the need for infrastructure" is quite laughable, since policymakers have been talking about infrastructure investments long before the former president rode down the escalator in 2015.
But perhaps most important is the motivation behind the rhetoric: Malliotakis likely hoped to defend herself against a possible far-right backlash by suggesting that she and Trump were somehow on the same side of the issue.
The former president, however, doesn't want credit for the bill. On the contrary, he appeared at an event with House Republicans last night and reportedly condemned both the legislation and the members who helped pass it.
Malliotakis was in attendance last night and was reportedly not pleased with Trump's rhetoric. If she thought he might give her a little cover by pretending he was responsible for Biden's success, the congresswoman probably came away disappointed.