WASHINGTON — Planned talks between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders on bipartisan infrastructure legislation fell apart Wednesday, with Trump instead holding a news conference in the Rose Garden where he warned that there was only one track forward: either “investigation” or “investment.”
Trump told reporters that he was enraged that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said that he had “engaged in a cover-up” ahead of the meeting. Supporters framed the remark as provocative and Trump told reporters it prompted him to cut off talks, even though he really wanted to put together a strong infrastructure package.
Pelosi’s comment earlier Wednesday referred to Trump’s stonewalling of multiple congressional investigations by ignoring subpoenas, refusing to allow current and former advisers to testify and not handing over documents.
In the last month, Pelosi had been trying to hold back Democrats eager to begin impeachment proceedings. Aware of the political risks in 2020, Pelosi has warned, “Trump is goading us to impeach him.”
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that more than half of Americans believe multiple congressional investigations of the president interfere with important government business, while 45 percent said Trump should be impeached.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to Capitol Hill after a brief meeting with the president and said they remain interested in working out a bipartisan infrastructure deal. “Unfortunately,” Pelosi said, “the president isn’t ready.”
Trump denied that, telling reporters that he was ready to talk infrastructure — and “that’s one of the easy ones. And instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that had just said that I was doing a cover-up. I don’t do cover-ups. You people know that probably better than anybody.”
But Tuesday night, Trump sent the two Democratic leaders a letter telling them that they should pass his trade deal with Mexico and Canada before turning to infrastructure.
‘Big and bold deal’
Wednesday’s confrontation was a dramatic departure from a meeting last month, when Pelosi and Schumer emerged from a White House meeting with Trump with the news that all sides had agreed to a “big and bold deal,” as Schumer put it.
Schumer noted that Trump had agreed “to present his ideas” on how to pay for the infrastructure initiative, as only funding with Trump’s support could make it through the Republican-controlled Senate.
It seemed like a tall order and it was.
Last year, Democrats released a proposal to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure projects over 10 years. The White House proposed a decade-long $1.5 trillion package of public-private spending that would have been fueled with $200 billion in federal seed money. Neither package went anywhere.
Back on Capitol Hill after Trump’s Rose Garden remarks, Schumer asserted, “it was planned” that Trump would cut short the meeting and invite the White House press corps to the Rose Garden as a deliberate ploy to avoid presenting a plan to find the revenue for the 10-year package.
“Hello,” said Schumer. “There were investigations going on three weeks ago when we met and he still met with us. But now that he was forced to say how he’d actually pay for it, he had to run away.”
In the afternoon, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., opened a hearing for Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which she chairs, by faulting Trump for saying “that he won’t work with Congress on any legislation – even if it benefits this country – unless Congress ignores its constitutional responsibility to carry out oversight of the administration.
“If the President wants to hold good-paying jobs hostage, that’s his choice, but it certainly isn’t mine. And I don’t believe it is of this committee,” Titus added. “It is beneath the dignity of the office for the president to suggest that he’ll allow bridges to collapse, airports to overcrowd, and ports to deteriorate unless we end our investigations.”
“I think he’s being strategic. I think he’s needling them,” observed Saikrishna Prakash of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “Because once they impeach him, it’s over” because the GOP Senate is unlikely to reach the two-thirds needed to convict and remove Trump from office.
Meanwhile, Prakash sees Democrats who have said Trump is guilty of obstruction tangled in their own rhetoric: “If it’s true, they should have already begun impeachment proceedings.”
Center for American Progress fellow Max Bergmann, who favors impeachment, thought likewise. He believes Trump is thinking, “Democrats aren’t prosecuting the case against me, so the way I can demonstrate my innocence, the way I’ll throw it in their face” is by arguing “that the fact that they’re not prosecuting me as a sign of my innocence.”