Trump’s still-evolving infrastructure initiative has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the battle over health-care legislation and promises to next tackle sweeping changes to the tax code.
But at Tuesday’s “town hall” — where speakers also included Ivanka Trump and other high-ranking administration officials — the president and his top aides stressed that they remain committed to the concept.
Gary D. Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, told the audience that the administration is working with ‘the broadest interpretation of infrastructure” and made clear that he expects many projects to be financed through public-private partnerships — or just private investments, in some cases.
Cohn said that modernizing the country’s air traffic control system is “probably the single most exciting thing we can do.”
He called the current configuration “embarrassing,” saying a shift from the current land-based radar system to a GPS-based system would be far more efficient, creating quicker and more direct routes that save airplane fuel.
He said updating the country’s “old, antiquated” power grid is another priority.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said one of the challenges facing the administration is that most federal spending on infrastructure flows to states and localities, a dynamic that complicates plans for a major infusion of spending.
The initiative will also require a sales job to many of Trump's fellow Republicans, who remain wary of new government spending.
Tuesday's town hall consisted of several 20-minute sessions, including one on workforce development that featured Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter who recently took a formal White House job.
She stressed the importance of education in building the country’s workforce and touted the value of vocational education, which prepares people to work in a trade.
Several other panelists spoke of a need to “rebrand” vocational education, arguing that it is stigmatized as inferior to more traditional schooling.
“Fortunately we have someone in Ivanka who knows a little about branding,” said Reed Cordish, an assistant to the president for intragovernmental and technology initiatives, who served as the emcee for Tuesday’s town hall.