When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he often railed against the deplorable state of America’s crumbling infrastructure.
“We have bridges that are falling down,” Trump said in an August 2016 interview with Fox Business Network in which he pledged to spend twice as much repairing infrastructure as the $275 billion proposed by his rival Hillary Clinton. “We have many, many bridges that are in danger of falling.”
Six months into his presidency, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence coined the term “Infrastructure Week,” a period dedicated to making America’s roads, bridges, railroads, airports and great again. By the time the June 5, 2017, kick-off to Infrastructure Week rolled around, Trump had, without committing a plan to paper, doubled his own infrastructure budget to $1 trillion. The plan, such as it was, consisted largely of trial balloons for privatizing much of the work.
“Trump’s ‘infrastructure week’ appears to be little more than a Trojan horse for undermining workers’ wages and handing massive tax breaks to billionaires and corporations,” then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
But the great debate over public versus private infrastructure was not to be, because smack in the middle of Infrastructure Week, vol. 1, fired FBI Director James Comey testified about his ouster before the U.S. Senate committee on intelligence.
Nine subsequent iterations of Infrastructure Week have now come and gone, each derailed by the purported plan’s lack of specificity and the continued distraction of the investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the 2016 election.
Yet, as we saw this week, Infrastructure Week continues to play a vital symbolic role in Washington. But its ultimate meaning has less to do with fulfilling the hopeful promise of a slogan on a red hat (and solving a problem Trump and Clinton were right to identify) than with affording the president another opportunity to distract the nation from his own mounting troubles.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sided with Democrats in the House, ruling that Trump’s accounting firm must comply with a subpoena and hand over the president’s financial records.
“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” Mehta wrote.
Two days later, Trump faced another court defeat when a federal judge in New York ruled that subpoenas issued by House Democrats to Deutsche Bank and Capital One Financial Corp. for Trump financial records had a “legitimate legislative purpose.”
With Trump’s lawyers doing their best to keep the president’s financial doings under wraps, and with the White House struggling to keep former White House counsel Don McGahn and special counsel Robert Mueller from testifying before Congress, Nancy Pelosi happily lit the fuse that would blow up Infrastructure Week anew.
After meeting with fellow House members on the question of whether to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, Pelosi said Democrats “believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”
Pelosi’s words, and the court defeats that accompanied them, set the stage for a very special Infrastructure Week, or, rather, Infrastructure Moment. Trump entered the White House Cabinet Room for a scheduled meeting with top Democrats having no intention of fleshing out the now $2 trillion fairy tale about rebuilding the country’s broken transportation framework. Instead, he gave Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a choice: Drop the investigations or prevent America from becoming great again.
Leaving the room, Trump headed out to the Rose Garden, where his podium was plastered with Mueller investigation talking points, and vented his frustration.
“I don't do cover-ups. You people know that probably better than anybody,” the president told reporters.
Sensing their advantage on the cover-up question, Pelosi and Schumer called their own press conference, with the House speaker going so far as to say she was praying for Trump, a remark that appeared to sting.
....Democrat leadership is tearing the United States apart, but I will continue to set records for the American People – and Nancy, thank you so much for your prayers, I know you truly mean it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 22, 2019
A day later, Pelosi reprised her remarks, salting the president’s wounds a bit more with the suggestion that Trump’s mental infrastructure is in need of attention.
“I pray for him. I wish his family or his administration staff would have an intervention for the good of the country,” Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. “Maybe he wants to take a leave of absence.”
With the back-and-forth dominating cable news screens, it was, once again, easy to forget about Infrastructure Week or the other problems facing the nation. But at a Thursday afternoon event at the White House, Trump himself reminded Americans that he had pushed the United States into a trade war with China by placing tariffs on a wide range of Chinese goods.
With retaliatory tariffs wreaking havoc on U.S. farmers, Trump, flanked by farmers and ranchers wearing cowboy hats, announced $19 billion in government handouts to agriculture, on top of $12 billion last year. But that focus too proved short-lived, and Trump soon turned to something he considered more important, denying that he had engaged in what Pelosi called a “temper tantrum” in terminating Infrastructure Week after a meeting that lasted about three minutes.
“She said I walked into the room right next door yesterday and walked in and started screaming and yelling,” Trump told reporters.
“Just the opposite. Just the opposite. Because I know that they will always say that even if it didn’t happen, because this happened once before, I walked out, I was so calm. You all saw me minutes later, I was at a news conference, I was extremely calm,” he continued. “I was probably even more so in that room. So I walked into the Cabinet room. You had the group, Cryin’ Chuck, Crazy Nancy. I tell you what, I’ve been watching her, and I have been watching her for a long period of time. She’s not the same person. She’s lost it.”
Returning to his views on the subject of trade, Trump assured the reporters that all was going well under his wise, calm guidance. “I’m an extremely stable genius,” he said.
How much had Pelosi gotten under Trump’s skin? The president later shared a Fox News mashup video of the House Speaker hesitating and stammering while answering questions earlier in the week, edited into a 30-second clip to make her look incoherent.
“PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE” pic.twitter.com/1OyCyqRTuk— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2019
Of course, Pelosi, the woman whose approval Trump must secure in order to have any chance of actually doing anything about infrastructure, has zero intention of halting congressional oversight of the president. Who knows — maybe that fact will land her on the president’s list of those he believes have committed treason. At Thursday’s farmer bailout event, the president was reminded that treason was a crime punishable by death and then asked who he saw as guilty of that offense.
“I think a number of people,” Trump said. “They have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person. If you look at Comey, if you look at McCabe, if you look at probably people higher than that, if you look at Strzok, if you look at his lover, Lisa Page, his wonderful lover.”
Fittingly, it was the perfect Infrastructure Week setup for another presidential proclamation.
“Today, at the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement released Thursday night. “The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information. Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions.”
On Friday, the president boarded Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews and took off for trade talks in Japan. Operated by the U.S. Air Force, Andrews is maintained using funds allocated to the military and therefore is in far better shape than the commercial airports the president was once so fond of criticizing.
Our airports are Third World--horrible. Let's rebuild them by people who know how to do it--inexpensively.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2012
After the latest Infrastructure Week debacle, and the “stop investigating” ultimatum laid out by the president, it’s unclear whether we’ll have to lay this metaphor to rest once and for all.
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