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Trump And Democrats Agree On $2 Trillion For Infrastructure, But Not On How To Pay

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they had a constructive White House meeting with President Trump on infrastructure on Tuesday.
Evan Vucci
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they had a constructive White House meeting with President Trump on infrastructure on Tuesday.

Updated at 6 p.m. ET

Democratic congressional leaders say President Trump has agreed to a $2 trillion infrastructure plan. But — and it's a big but — there was no agreement on how to pay for such a wide-ranging and expensive proposal.

The leaders say they're waiting for Trump to outline his ideas for that in three weeks.

Emerging from a White House meeting that lasted some 90 minutes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they were "very excited about the conversation that we had." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it "very constructive," adding that it is clear that Democratic leaders and the president "want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also struck a positive tone in her statement after the meeting, calling it "excellent and productive."

"The United States has not come even close to properly investing in infrastructure for many years ... We have to invest in this country's future and bring our infrastructure to a level better than it has ever been before," the statement said.

The statement does not mention the $2 trillion figure that Schumer said the group had agreed on.

Schumer said the proposed package would include funds to repair roads and bridges, along with water projects and "a big emphasis" on broadband and the power grid, so "we can bring clean energy from one end of the country to the other."

The Democratic leaders say the onus is on the president to come up with a way to pay for the improvements. "Certainly in the Senate, if we don't have [Trump] on board, it will be very hard to get the Senate to go along," Schumer said.

Schumer said the group would meet again in three weeks to get the president's funding ideas.

The tone of Tuesday's meeting was in marked contrast to the last time Democratic leaders met with the president, prior to a 35-day government shutdown over funding for a border wall. That tense back-and-forth was broadcast live.

Democratic leaders and the president are now in a heated battle over subpoenas as lawmakers investigate Trump's business dealings, and some in the party are talking about possible impeachment. Yet a Democratic source familiar with discussion called the meeting "uncharacteristically muted."

Schumer said the president did not repeat threats he has made in previous meetings with Democrats — that if congressional investigations of him continue, he will not work with Democrats on legislation.

"He didn't bring it up," Schumer said. "We can do both at once," he said, later adding, "The two are not mutually exclusive, and we were glad he didn't make it that way."

It's unclear whether or how Republicans and Democrats will be able to find common ground on a funding source for a large infrastructure package, something that has eluded them for years.

There is no apparent appetite in either party to raise the gas tax, which funds federal transportation projects and has remained at its current level — 18.4 cents a gallon — since 1993. Democrats have proposed rolling back the tax cuts passed by the president and the last Republican led-Congress to fund road and bridge repairs. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called that idea a "non-starter."

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said that a $2 trillion package sounded good, but that he was skeptical. "They could have said five [trillion dollars], you know, and until they actually tell us how they're going to pay for it, agreeing on a number doesn't mean very much."

The meeting ventured into other topics besides infrastructure, according to a Democratic aide. The president brought up trade and immigration, calling the U.S. border with Mexico "a disaster" and asking Democrats to work with him to address the situation there. Pelosi said Democrats wanted to work on comprehensive immigration policy change.

The aide said the president criticized the previous approach his administration took toward infrastructure funding — public-private partnerships. He faulted his former economic adviser. "That was a Gary [Cohn] bill," Trump said, calling it "so stupid" because, he said, "you get sued."

Trump said, "I'll lead on this."

There was some confusion when talking about infrastructure. According to the aide, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., asked Trump to remember the Great Lakes when addressing the needs of ports. Trump asked, "What's happening with the fish?" prompting some confusion. The president was apparently referring to invasive Asian carp.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.