CINCINNATI — President Trump traveled to the banks of the Ohio River here on Wednesday to rally blue-collar workers behind his emerging infrastructure plan, using the event to bash Democrats as “obstructionists” over his stalled legislative agenda.
Trump’s trip, part of a week of events aimed at promoting the White House initiative, was heavy on symbolism as he spoke at the Rivertowne Marina to a crowd of 400 steelworkers, coal miners and construction workers. Barges the president said were carrying West Virginia-produced coal were visible on the river behind him.
Yet if part of the aim was to build crucial bipartisan support for a plan he has claimed will boost jobs, Trump was unable to mask his disdain for his political rivals.
“I’m calling on all Democrats, who honestly have really been obstructionists — boy, have they tried on every single thing,” Trump said, citing his administration’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act as an example. The House passed a repeal bill without Democratic support, but the Republican-led Senate has yet to act.
“Every single thing is obstruction,” the president continued, adding that “if I was in that party, I would not do it that way. I’d be doing positive things. That’s why they lost the House, it’s why they lost the Senate, it’s why they lost the White House.”
Trump’s campaign promise to invest $1 trillion in rebuilding the nation’s airports, roads, bridges and tunnels had produced early hopes among some in Congress that infrastructure would be a rare area where the two major parties could find compromise.
But Democrats have uniformly balked at the White House’s proposal, which would provide $200 billion in funding over a decade with the aim of attracting an additional $800 billion in private money, as well as state and local funds.
White House aides had hoped that what they called “infrastructure week” would provide new momentum for Trump’s legislative agenda and focus the president’s attention on a positive message during a week in which senior U.S. intelligence officials and former FBI director James B. Comey are testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee over the federal probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.
As Trump flew to Ohio aboard Air Force One, cable networks aired live coverage of the testimony of Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers. Later in the day, Comey’s opening statement for his Thursday appearance before the committee was released, dominating news coverage.
Trump did not mention the events in Washington during his visit to Cincinnati, where he also made separate remarks shortly after landing about the effort to repeal Obamacare. At the Rivertowne Marina, Trump was joined by several Cabinet secretaries as well as two New York real estate moguls, Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, whom Trump had previously named to lead an infrastructure council to monitor progress.
The president has said a key part of the initiative will be jettisoning and streamlining regulations to speed up projects. Critics have countered that Trump’s approach would rely on privatizing many roads, bridges and airports, selling off these projects in a way that will let investors raise fees, tolls and other charges.
During his remarks, which lasted about half an hour, Trump framed his plan as a way to make good on his pledge to put “America first,” saying expensive U.S. entanglements abroad have distracted the country from its goals of spurring job growth.
“Every other country looks out for their interests,” Trump said. “It’s time we start looking out for our interests in the United States.”
He alluded to his decision last week to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, boasting that “we will never let outside forces tell us what to do and how to do it. That would have been a huge anchor on our country.”
Trump also touted his recent foreign trip, including a stop in Saudi Arabia, which he said would bring new foreign investment in U.S.-produced military equipment. And he thanked Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for efforts to cut off funding for terrorist groups.
“Hopefully, that will be the beginning to the end of this horrible, horrible situation the world is suffering through right now,” Trump said. “We have to put an end to it. We have to be very tough.”
Yet Trump referred to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as an example of misguided priorities.
“As of a few months ago, we spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, along with the deaths of so many incredible people,” he said. “And yet if we want to fix a road or fix a school or make sure bridges do not collapse, we don’t ever seem to have the money. Gotta change, folks.”
Nakamura reported from Washington.