By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders agreed on Tuesday to spend $2 trillion on roads, bridges, water, broadband and power grids, and will meet again in three weeks to discuss how to pay for the plan, Democratic leaders said.
The meeting, which appeared to be largely positive, contrasts with more heated discussions between the two sides on the trickier issues of immigration and border security. Both parties have shown support for a potential infrastructure bill, which, if passed, would be a rare example of bipartisan legislative success.
“We just had a very productive meeting with the president of the United States,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at the White House. “We did come to one agreement: That the agreement would be big and bold.”
Despite the united desire to strengthen U.S. infrastructure, the measures to pay for the bill, which would need the approval of Congress, may be a stumbling block to cooperation.
“We agreed on a number, which was very, very good — $2 trillion for infrastructure. Originally we had started with a lower — even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The White House called the meeting “excellent and productive” and confirmed that another one would take place later in May.
“The United States has not come even close to properly investing in infrastructure for many years, foolishly prioritizing the interests of other countries over our own,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
“The president looks forward to working together in a bipartisan way and getting things done for the American people.”
Still, Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said an agreement was unlikely because Democrats would not back environment deregulation, which the White House would want to speed up construction.
“I think there is a much better chance of getting the USMCA passed than getting the infrastructure bill passed,” Mulvaney said, referring to the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills.
The next meeting is set to focus on how to finance the plan. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters on Monday the president had not made up his mind on whether to support raising a federal tax on gasoline to help pay for it.
Trump has had a combative relationship with his Democratic congressional counterparts. An Oval Office meeting with Pelosi and Schumer in December included a long, open clash, played out in front of reporters and television cameras.
More recently, the president has criticized Democrats for pursuing investigations of his conduct after the release earlier this month of the redacted report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. election.
That investigation did not establish that Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russia to influence the election, but it did not take a position on whether the president obstructed justice as the probe took place.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, are initiating further probes of Trump, but the Democratic leaders said that topic did not come up during the meeting.
“In previous meetings, the president has said, ‘If these investigations continue, I can’t work with you.’ He didn’t bring it up. And so, I believe we can do both at once,” Schumer said.
“We can come up with some good ideas on infrastructure. We want to hear his ideas on funding. That’s going to be the crucial point, in my opinion. And the House and the Senate can proceed in its oversight responsibilities. The two are not mutually exclusive and we were glad he didn’t make it that way.”
Trump wants to speed up permit approvals to boost construction projects as part of any infrastructure plan, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said earlier on Tuesday. She warned Democrats not to try to include their ideas on combating climate change in any legislation.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice and David Shepardson in Washington, and by Matt Scuffham and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Beverly Hills; Editing by Bernadette Baum)