The White House gave Infrastructure Week another go two months later, this time planning to focus on the federal-permitting process. Yet what stuck in most Americans’ minds about that week was not Trump’s pledge to streamline the approvals needed to start construction projects, but instead his remark that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the white-supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
And who could forget the Infrastructure Week of February 2018—meant to promote a $1.3 trillion infrastructure plan centered on public-private partnerships—when the Trump lawyer Michael Cohen revealed he’d paid off the adult-film star Stormy Daniels?
Somewhere along the way, Infrastructure Week became an internet meme, a symbol of the White House’s inability to stay on message and to keep the president on message, too. The administration’s repeated attempt to drive a policy conversation had become something like a bizarre game of telephone, the initial message about fixing roads and bridges somehow morphing into talk of neo-Nazis and porn stars. Yet even if each Infrastructure Week generated no actual legislative progress, it at least made for an amusing intersection of Washington and internet culture.
On Twitter, Infrastructure Week became a shorthand for the constant churn of the Trump era, with the underlying premise that the announcement of a new Infrastructure Week foreshadowed chaos to come. Even Republicans would privately chuckle that the issue had become a punch line: Before the 2018 midterms, when they controlled both chambers of Congress, they were more interested in tackling items like tax reform, anyway.
But today, the stakes of any Infrastructure Week are much higher—and, for Republicans, more serious. With Democrats in power in the House, an infrastructure bill is likely the one major piece of legislation that could attract support from members of both parties ahead of the 2020 election. Though neither side wants to give the other a political win, there’s broad consensus that the nation’s infrastructure needs upgrading. This means that if Trump wants to claim one final significant legislative victory to tout on the campaign trail, any Infrastructure Weeks to come will actually have to concern themselves with, well, infrastructure. As White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told my colleague Peter Nicholas and me recently, if Congress can’t manage to pass an infrastructure bill, “it could be a slow couple of years.”
Tuesday, however, seemed to indicate a promising start. Around mid-morning, Trump met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, among other Democrats, to discuss a possible deal. Schumer emerged from the Oval Office meeting in good spirits, telling reporters that the threesome had agreed to pursue a $2 trillion plan to renovate highways, railroads, and bridges. Schumer said the group would meet again in three weeks, when Trump would present his plan for funding the project.
Ultimately, it was the president’s most successful Infrastructure Week so far, culminating, essentially, in a deal to make a deal. (It may have helped that the big meeting took place only one day into the workweek—and that the White House didn’t lean into any overt Infrastructure Week branding.)