Donald Trump tried and failed to pass an infrastructure bill so many times over the course of his presidency that his attempts were reduced to a punchline. Now out of office, Trump is trying to ensure that his successor, Joe Biden, suffers the indignity of the “infrastructure week” jokes as well.
The former president has sounded off repeatedly in the past week about the negotiations taking place between Senate Republicans and Democrats on the Hill and in the White House. He’s encouraged GOP lawmakers to abandon the talks and criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for even entertaining them. Senate Republicans have said, in interviews, that they have directly asked the former president not just to tone down his criticism but to actually support the infrastructure deal.
“The last time I told him there’s not going to be any tax increases, and I’m of the opinion let’s do a deal that’s good for the roads, ports, and bridges. Let’s do it,” said close Trump ally Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.). “I appreciate the effort of everyone and I’m hoping we get there.”
But Trump has made clear he is not interested in supporting any kind of Republican deal with Democrats and is hoping allies in Congress kill it.
Trump’s opposition, aides insist, is based on the merits. At a time of fear around inflation, he opposes additional spending and believes the framework of the potential compromise is far too tilted towards environmentally-conscious projects and not hard infrastructure. But much of what has driven Trump’s approach to legislation in the past has been self-interest and personal grievance. And in discussing current infrastructure talks, Trump aides concede that they remain upset that a big bill wasn’t passed while he was in the Oval.
“They had four years to do an infrastructure deal with someone who knows infrastructure and actually builds buildings,” one Trump aide said. “I’m just speaking for myself, he hasn’t said, ‘Oh they should have done it with me,’ but if they actually wanted infrastructure they would have done it when President Trump was in there.”
Though he has increasingly sought to undermine negotiations, Trump’s efforts to derail any infrastructure package have, so far, mostly been met with a shrug on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve read the statements,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “But it’s a little short on specificity.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio.) announced that there was an agreement on the “major issues,” after days long back and forth between top Republicans and the White House. A cloture vote was expected in the evening.
“I don’t think there’s a lot there,” a senior GOP aide said of Trump’s attempts at undermining the deal. “It’s not reverberating here. I don’t think Rob Portman sees this and goes, ‘Oh no, I have to give up.’”
Still, the threat that Trump may persuade Republicans to abandon talks has been profound enough that Portman reportedly asked Trump to get behind the deal. The senator, who is serving as the primary GOP negotiator with the White House, reminded the former president that the new package is on par with what he hoped to get done while in the White House, according to the report. A spokesperson for Trump said they weren’t aware of any conversations but said Portman would “not have much luck.”
Trump’s pushback on the deal echoed some of the same concerns expressed in an item by the conservative leaning Wall Street Journal editorial board just days before. The former president has threatened lawmakers who support the deal for giving Democrats a “big and beautiful win on Infrastructure.”
“Republican voters will never forget their name, nor will the people of our Country,” Trump said in a recent statement.
Trump tried his hand at several junctures to get his own infrastructure bill passed. As a candidate, he pitched a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure plan to improve America’s roads and bridges and create new jobs. But once he was in office, the self described dealmaker came to realize the trickiness of negotiating a massive spending package in Washington, and he repeatedly sabotaged his own efforts to reach a deal by spinning off track with self-inflicted political controversies. At one point, Trump and Democratic leadership seemed poised to agree on a $2 trillion infrastructure package but then weeks later, any hope for a deal fell apart in a dramatic Oval Office eruption between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over House investigations.
Through it all, Trump was often stymied by McConnell, who showed little of the same appetite to pass a major spending bill on bridges and roads. McConnell has far less power now to determine the legislative outcome of an infrastructure push. But Trump has still focused his ire on the Kentucky Republican, threatening him to pull back GOP caucus members who are engaged in talks with Democrats about a bill.
Over the weekend at a Turning Point USA event in Phoenix, Trump criticized the Republican leader as an “old crow” — a swipe he has used before on McConnell and was met with applause by the pro-Trump audience.
“Actually, it’s quite an honor,” McConnell told a CNN reporter when asked about the moniker. “Old Crow is Henry Clay’s favorite bourbon.”
Trump’s anger with McConnell has been brewing since the election results. The then-Senate majority leader refused to support Trump’s claim that the vote was rigged and entertained voting for Trump’s impeachment after the riots on January 6. McConnell backed off that last threat and then helped torpedo an independent commission to investigate what happened on that day. But Trump has remained fixated on him.
One adviser to Trump said that the former president’s team was trying to figure out ways to deprive McConnell of the majority leader post should Republicans take back control of the Senate in 2022 — something Trump himself has fantasized about openly.
“I don’t think that’s ever going to be fixed,” the adviser said of the Trump-McConnell relationship. “He’s not effective. He said that recently he said in an interview he’s good as a survivor but not a leader. That’s how he feels.”
Marianne Levine contributed to this report.