By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) — The curtains in the Cabinet Room were drawn. The Democrats were waiting to talk about infrastructure. President Donald Trump came and went in all of three minutes.
Round 2 of the president’s consultations with congressional Democrats on infrastructure went bust in a flash.
Prospects for passing a large infrastructure bill evaporated Wednesday as Trump announced that he won’t work with Democratic lawmakers on policy while they continue to investigate him.
Trump took umbrage at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accusing him earlier in the day of being “engaged in a cover up.”
He met briefly with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats before exiting to address reporters in the Rose Garden.
His message: Only after the Democrats’ investigations end will he work with them on infrastructure, lowering drug prices and other matters.
Speaking at the Capitol, Pelosi and Schumer suggested that Trump was looking for excuses not to take up infrastructure.
“He just took a pass,” Pelosi said. “And it just makes me wonder why he did that. In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”
The meeting was supposed to be a follow-up from three weeks ago, when Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed to cooperate on a $2 trillion infrastructure package for roads, bridges and broadband.
Schumer said that congressional committees had been undertaking investigations during that first meeting as well.
“And he still met with us. But now that he was forced to actually say how he was going to pay for it, he had to run away,” Schumer said.
There were obvious signs of trouble going into the meeting. Both sides were being guarded about how they would pay for such a plan. On Tuesday night, the White House released a letter written by Trump to Pelosi and Schumer to let them know he would prefer having Congress take up his proposed trade deal with Mexico and Canada first.
“Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package,” Trump said.
Congressional committees have begun holding hearings on the country’s infrastructure. It’s one of the few issues that lawmakers from both parties have said they would like to deal with.
Business and trade groups have been meeting with White House officials to emphasize the importance of shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road improvements and transit systems. Federal fuel taxes supply most of the money that goes into the trust fund, but the purchasing power of the gas tax has declined as vehicles have become more fuel efficient.
In the past six years, about 30 states have enacted fuel-tax increases to raise money for local roads and bridges, but Congress has not approved a fuel tax increase since 1993. The amount charged at the pump now stands at 18.3 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.3 cents a gallon for diesel.
Groups that support an increase are arguing that state politicians who have voted in favor of gas-tax increases have not seen their re-election prospects diminished.
But Republican leaders in Congress have shown little enthusiasm for the likely cost of the infrastructure plan, and even less for the idea of raising the federal fuel tax to help pay for infrastructure work. Trump himself has suggested that Democrats are somehow setting a trap to get him to go along with a tax increase.