WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump kicked off “Infrastructure Week” at the White House by calling on lawmakers to reform the nation’s air traffic control system ― billed as an opening salvo to his efforts to overhaul crumbling roads, bridges and waterways.
But you wouldn’t know it from conversations in Senate hallways on Tuesday, where lawmakers faced a barrage of questions over other topics, including deliberations over health care, the investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election, Trump’s statements concerning Qatar’s dispute with its Persian Gulf neighbors, and former FBI Director James Comey’s congressional testimony later this week.
The timing of Trump’s infrastructure push ― and the absence of a promised $1 trillion plan to finance rebuilding projects from the White House ― led some Democrats to express suspicion about the president’s motive.
“I’ll let you draw the judgment, but there’s some other things going on this week that maybe they’re trying to take the attention off of,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will question Comey on Thursday.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) agreed, saying Trump’s infrastructure push this week is an attempt to “change the story.”
“I imagine they woke up this weekend and wanted to put something else out there for people to write about other than Comey and Russia and inability to pass a health care bill, and air traffic control was it. I imagine there will be very little follow up from a policy perspective,” Murphy said.
The White House and its allies are offering infrastructure as counter-programming to Comey’s testimony ― a highly anticipated event that will be carried live by all cable networks. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday the president would give a speech Thursday around the same time as Comey’s Senate appearance. Trump may also live-tweet the hearing to offer direct rebuttals to the FBI director he fired abruptly earlier this year.
Trump on Monday sent to Congress a list “principles” related to his desire to reform the air traffic control system. But the initiative reportedly didn’t merit discussion in his meeting with GOP congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday. According to Axios, the meeting focused mostly on health care and Trump’s proposed border wall.
Democrats, however, were only happy to needle their Republican colleagues over the topic.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a news conference on Tuesday that the president’s favored approach ― using private equity to finance infrastructure improvements ― would result in “Trump tolls from one end of America to the other, and huge profits for financiers who, when they put up the money, want to be repaid by the average driver, worker and citizen.”
“I don’t see any plan,” added Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “He ought to be moving on infrastructure.”