Both sides have incentive to deal. Trump would like to roll into the 2020 election with a legislative accomplishment apart from the 2017 tax-cut law, which few Americans believe gave them any financial help. Democrats, meanwhile, would relish a chance to bring home to their districts needed jobs and investment. Yet Trump almost immediately dampened hope that the tentative deal would hold. By the weekend, he was walking back the commitment: $2 trillion had slipped to $1 trillion to $2 trillion. And it doesn’t appear that Trump has laid any groundwork for an infrastructure package on an immense scale.
The numbers have left White House aides and GOP allies with sticker shock. Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told me: “I see no way to fund $2 trillion in infrastructure without raising taxes, and for most prudent political calculations, raising taxes is only a winner in progressive circles.”
“To me, that would be a ceiling that is unattainable,” said a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, when asked about the $2 trillion figure.
Nor is it clear that Trump can set aside his differences with Democrats and work toward goals that are in their mutual interest. He is furious with Democratic lawmakers for digging into his record, targeting his tax returns, threatening him with impeachment, and summoning his top aides to testify. On Sunday, Trump upbraided Democrats for trying to get Mueller to appear before Congress, saying the special counsel should boycott the proceedings. “Are [Democrats] looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion?” Trump tweeted. And he has ordered administration officials to resist Democratic subpoenas, feeding a toxic, partisan atmosphere that precludes consensus-building.
Read: Infrastructure Week became a joke. Now it’s for real.
Trump has long been captive to his ever-shifting moods. Top aides fall in and out of favor. Policy positions are embraced and quickly discarded when no longer expedient. What’s different now is the moment. Trump is running for reelection on a strong economy and sizzling financial markets. But economies sour and markets cool. An infrastructure deal, by contrast, would be a durable achievement. Unlike his travel ban, it couldn’t be overturned by executive order.
Yet it requires focus. One figure from history who faced similar circumstances was Bill Clinton, who weathered an impeachment attempt borne of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. As the battle played out, he still made overtures to congressional accusers and didn’t let the bitterness he felt swallow his agenda.
In his book about Clinton’s presidency, The Survivor, John F. Harris describes a scene in which Representative Tom DeLay, one of the former president’s chief Republican detractors and an impeachment crusader, came to the White House at Clinton’s invitation for a ceremony about adoption. Clinton said at the event that his “heart just melted” when he read an article about how DeLay was committed to adoption and foster parenting. The moment was emblematic of Clinton’s capacity to compartmentalize. “He was able to continue to reach out to Republicans while they were trying to impeach him,” Lockhart says. “Trump makes things very difficult for himself because every day he poisons the well.”