WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s effort to spotlight the nation’s crumbling infrastructure system went off the rails again this week due to a mix of self-inflicted errors and unforeseen events.
The rollout of Trump’s long-awaited infrastructure plan on Monday was quickly overshadowed by furor over spousal abuse allegations that forced the resignation of a senior White House aide, the president’s days-long silence on the issue of domestic violence, an admission by Trump’s longtime lawyer to paying $130,000 to a porn star, and another horrific mass shooting at a high school in Florida ― the 18th school shooting since the start of the year.
Trump’s self-proclaimed “Infrastructure week” had become a running joke in Washington, even before it was upended. Since Trump took office, administration officials promised over and over that they would deliver a plan to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, and waterways, but none materialized.
Trump’s first “infrastructure week” in June highlighted the need for air-traffic control privatization. But it was quickly eclipsed by former FBI Director James Comey’s blockbuster testimony on Capitol Hill and the president’s criticisms of his own Justice Department. The administration’s second “infrastructure week” in August focusing on reforms to the federal permitting process also failed to leave a mark after the president defended white nationalists protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump on Monday released details of his infrastructure proposal ― which seeks to leverage $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade into an additional $1.3 trillion for infrastructure development with the aid of state and local tax dollars as well as private investment. The announcement was paired with a bipartisan group of mayors meeting with the president at the White House.
But the conversation in the press briefing room quickly shifted to the administration’s rapidly changing story on Rob Porter, who was the president’s staff secretary before resigning over accusations of domestic abuse by two ex-wives. White House press aides’ responses to questions about the Porter case ― including what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew and when ― dominated attention in what was supposed to be a time to discuss repairing the nation’s roads, bridges, and waterways.
Trump himself fed the feeding frenzy at the White House by ignoring questions on whether he stood with victims of domestic violence at several events on infrastructure and trade. His transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, even made an appearance in the White House briefing room to accept a check on behalf of her agency from the president that contained his fourth-quarter salary, but that, too, failed to keep the focus infrastructure.
Administration officials were thrown another curveball when Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he paid an adult film star known as Stormy Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket a month before the 2016 presidential election. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, supposedly revealed that she had an affair with Trump in a previously unpublished 2011 interview with In Touch Weekly ― an affair the White House has denied.
Clifford’s manager said Wednesday that she believes the porn actress is now free to discuss her encounter with Trump because Cohen breached the non-disclosure agreement by publicly discussing the payment.
The admission would have rocked any previous presidential administration, but somehow it didn’t even manage to rank as the top news item of the week.
But it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon, when a teenager opened fire in a South Florida high school, killing at least 17 people and injuring 15 others, that the administration lost all hope of effectively messaging their infrastructure proposal.
The White House on Thursday was forced to cancel Trump’s previously scheduled trip to Orlando, Florida, the following day, where he was supposed to pitch the infrastructure plan to the public, but not before the president himself bungled his response to the shooting by laying some blame on the gunman’s classmates.