Trump Dials Back On Infrastructure Deal, Returns To Square One With Putin

May 5, 2019
Originally published on May 5, 2019 2:18 pm
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Here at home, the economy is booming. So why not take another crack at infrastructure week?

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NANCY PELOSI: We just had a very productive meeting with the president of the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday. Democratic leaders and President Trump agreed to spend $2 trillion - that's a number the president suggested - on roads and bridges and more. But Senate Republicans and reportedly even Trump's own chief of staff expressed skepticism immediately. Oh, and then all the talk was about Russia again. NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us this morning. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, so the president says he's still looking hard at an infrastructure plan, though he's dialing the price tag down to 1 to 2 trillion. What odds do you give it?

LIASSON: I give it slim odds here. As you said, he immediately got pushback from his own chief of staff, from Republicans in the Senate, including the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. They think that's too much money. They certainly don't want to raise the gas tax to pay for it. And it's just another example of how the president is having trouble working the levers of his own government. He couldn't get his own Homeland Security department to do what he wanted them to do at the border. And if he can't make a deal with Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, and Mitch McConnell, he's certainly not going to be able to make one with Nancy Pelosi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, we should say at this point that the president got some impressive economic numbers this week, record low unemployment for one. So are Democratic leaders maybe rethinking the wisdom of handing him another possible win on infrastructure?

LIASSON: Well, the politics of infrastructure is a little unclear. Who needs an infrastructure bill more, Trump or the Democrats in Congress? Democrats presumably would want to show what they would do if they were in control of the government. Donald Trump wants to show that he can pass some kind of legislation. So the politics of that are unclear. But the bottom line is America's roads and bridges are crumbling, and nothing is happening about it in Washington.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's look abroad. There's fighting in Gaza, as you heard, with presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner's peace plan still in the works. There's Venezuela, North Korea, a lot.

LIASSON: A lot - and just as the president has been frustrated in getting his domestic priorities passed, he also hasn't seen his foreign policy agenda work out the way he wanted to. In Venezuela, Maduro is still there. North Korea just fired several short-range projectiles into the sea.

And back to Russia, the president had an hour-long call with Vladimir Putin. And it almost was back to Helsinki because the president said he did not raise Russian interference in the 2016 election - he did not warn Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election - even though his own intelligence community says that the Russians have never given up trying. So another place where he's a party of one at odds with his own government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump's line is that it's better to be, quote, "getting along," unquote, with Russia, right?

LIASSON: Yes, and certainly everybody would agree. It's good to get along with countries around the world. The problem is that everyone else in the Trump administration acknowledges that Russia interfered in the 2016 election except for the president. The Mueller report said Russia interfered in a, quote, "sweeping and systematic fashion." The president has never consistently acknowledged that, except for when he's blaming President Obama for doing nothing about it.

And the question is, is that because he's so insecure about his election he doesn't want to talk about anything that seems to undermine his legitimacy? Or is it because he's fine with Russia doing it again in 2020 on his behalf? After all, his own lawyer said recently on CNN, quote, "there's nothing wrong with taking information from the Russians." That was Rudy Giuliani.

And, you know, you saw the president take Putin's line on Venezuela. After the phone call, he said Russia has - is not looking to get involved in Venezuela. That directly contradicts his own secretary of state and national security adviser, who've said Russia not only is involved in Venezuela. It's working in defiance of the U.S. government. And Secretary Pompeo said the Russians have invaded Venezuela.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.