The Many Times It’s Been ‘Infrastructure Week’ in Washington

The Many Times It’s Been ‘Infrastructure Week’ in Washington

WASHINGTON — From the moment President Trump made his 2016 campaign pledge to start a $1 trillion effort to rebuild the United States’ roads and bridges, infrastructure has become a constant motif of his presidency: his unfulfilled boasts about cutting big bipartisan deals, his quest for distractions from disastrous news cycles and his inability to tackle the nation’s pressing issues.

Democrats have called for a huge infrastructure deal, as well, only to see their hopes for a compromise with Mr. Trump undermined amid squabbling about how to pay for it and derailed by the president’s anger at their investigations of his policies and conduct.

Over the past three years, as the White House’s carefully laid plans for infrastructure-related events have repeatedly been thwarted or overshadowed by the scandal of the day, the phrase “Infrastructure Week” has become something of a joke and a metaphor for any well-intentioned proposal doomed to go nowhere.

But with growing consensus that the coronavirus pandemic could jump-start bipartisan efforts to enact a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan to create thousands of jobs, the Trump administration and Congress appear to be taking the issue seriously again.

Here is a timeline of all of the Infrastructure Weeks that could have been.

Mr. Trump said he would spend $800 billion to $1 trillion improving America’s infrastructure, pointing to bridges across the country that were structurally precarious. His proposal was twice as much as what his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, pledged.

Mr. Trump said the infrastructure improvements would be funded by government bonds purchased by investors, a plan liberal economists had pushed for. He promised to fix one bridge in particular — the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati that had long plagued the region with creaks and rust.

At an event in the Rose Garden during the first scheduled infrastructure week, Mr. Trump accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he had fired a month before, of lying under oath during congressional testimony about the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.

During that week, the president also criticized Mayor Sadiq Khan of London for failing to combat terrorism and rebuffed efforts to play down his travel ban barring visitors from predominantly Muslim nations.

Mr. Trump, flanked by members of his administration in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, offered an update on his infrastructure agenda. But the event turned into a combative question-and-answer session, where the president, asked about a white supremacist attack in Charlottesville, Va., returned to blaming both sides for the deadly violence.

“I think there is blame on both sides,” Mr. Trump said at the time. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”

A few days after Mr. Trump vowed to tackle infrastructure during his State of the Union address, the administration released a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan for the next decade — a fraction of which would come from federal investments.

The president said his plan would “spur the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” But it faced immediate skepticism on Capitol Hill from both Republicans and Democrats. Independent analysts said the plan would likely not lead to new spending on roads and bridges.

The news of the plan was also overshadowed by the resignation of Rob Porter, then the staff secretary, after two former wives accused him of physical abuse when they were married to him, and the news that Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, had paid $130,000 to a pornographic film actress who had once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.

During the State of the Union address, Mr. Trump called on both political parties to hammer out an infrastructure improvement plan that had made little progress during his first two years in office.

“Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure,” Mr. Trump said. This is not an option, this is a necessity.”

With Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California regaining control of the gavel after Democrats won back the House in November 2018, she and other congressional leaders convened at the White House to hammer out a plan for infrastructure.

Democratic congressional leaders emerged afterward and said that Mr. Trump had agreed to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to upgrade the nation’s highways, railroads, bridges and broadband. They planned to reconvene in three weeks to discuss how to pay for it.

Mr. Trump abruptly ended a follow-up meeting with Democrats in May, declaring that he would not work with them until they stopped investigating him and accusing Ms. Pelosi of a cover-up.

While the president said that it was not possible to work with Democrats during the investigations — “we’re going to go down one track at a time” — the breakdown also gave Democrats evidence to say that Mr. Trump had never been serious about working together on infrastructure.

“I knew he was looking for a way out,” Ms. Pelosi told her colleagues at the time. “We were expecting this.”

House Democrats unveiled their own five-year, $760 billion legislation to rebuild the nation’s highways, airports and other infrastructure as the Senate grappled with the impeachment trial against Mr. Trump.

While the framework included transportation and infrastructure legislation routinely addressed by Congress, Democrats also emphasized efforts to counter the effect of climate change. It was unlikely the Republican-led Senate would take up the legislation without significant changes.

In the final State of the Union address of his term, Mr. Trump called on Congress to take up a Senate highway bill that had passed unanimously out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. That bill authorized $287 billion over five years, and included provisions for road safety and programs to maintain and repair roads and bridges.

After passing three sweeping pieces of legislation to counter the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as the president, have begun to again raise the possibility of passing a $2 trillion infrastructure package.

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