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Trump's infrastructure gambit collapses with surprising speed

Three weeks ago, Trump met with Democratic leaders and agreed in principal on a "big and bold" $2 trillion infrastructure deal. So much for that idea.
Travel During July 4th Holiday Weekend Expected To Be Heavy
Traffic makes its way along Interstate 80 on July 1, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. AAA is projecting that nearly 42 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over the Fourth of July weekend, the largest number since 2007. 

Thomas Donohoe, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, are rarely on the same page. They nevertheless co-wrote a Washington Post op-ed yesterday, urging federal policymakers to approve a sweeping infrastructure plan.

Alas, Donohoe and Trumka should probably start lowering their expectations.

It was three weeks ago yesterday when Donald Trump met privately with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and the leaders agreed in principle to pursue an ambitious infrastructure plan. The president said he wanted a "big and bold" $2 trillion infrastructure deal; Democrats agreed; and the trio said they'd meet again in a month -- today, in fact -- to discuss the way forward.

Almost immediately, there were signs of trouble. Within days of the bipartisan talks, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney voiced opposition to his own boss' gambit. Congressional Republicans balked, too. Within a week of saying he wanted to aim high, Trump turned to Twitter to suggest he was prepared to cut the price of the initiative in half.

The president appeared on Fox News a few days ago, and when the discussion turned to infrastructure, he said, "I also think we're being played by the Democrats a little bit. I think what they want me to do is say, 'Well, we'll raise taxes, or we'll do this or this or this' -- and then they'll have a news conference, 'See, Trump wants to raise taxes.' So it's a little bit of a game."

It wasn't altogether clear what that meant, though Trump seemed to be suggesting that Democrats were playing "a game" by wanting the infrastructure plan to be paid for.

Last night, on the eve of the next round of talks with Democratic leaders, the president found a new way to derail the infrastructure initiative. The New York Times reported:

President Trump effectively blew up negotiations with Democratic leaders over a plan to rebuild the nation's highways, airports and other infrastructure on Tuesday night, insisting that they put the idea aside until Congress approves a new trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

There's no reason infrastructure talks can't continue while the NAFTA 2.0 process moves forward, but the White House apparently wants to kill the former and save the latter.

Indeed, Politico reported this morning that Team Trump is "not going to present any plan to pay for rebuilding the nation's roads and highways." Instead, the president and his team will ask Democrats to "make the case for a $2 trillion package."

The article added, "The White House has identified roughly $1 trillion in spending cuts to pay for legislation -- about as realistic a plan as saying this newsletter will fly you to the moon if you say abracadabra."

Trump keeps putting this issue high on his priority list -- the number of "Infrastructure Weeks" has become a political punch-line -- only to screw up every meaningful opportunity he's had to advance an infrastructure package.

If I had to guess, I'd say the president genuinely likes the idea of massive infrastructure investments. But by all appearances, Trump doesn't know how to execute a plan or strike a deal, and he doesn't want to do any meaningful work to make it happen.