U.S. president Donald Trump held a press conference yesterday. You might've heard something about it.
Long before Trump stepped away from the microphone, media outlets were busy posting reports about his explicit defense of the white nationalists who'd gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend for a rally that ultimately turned deadly. However, that wasn't why the press conference was called.
Trump initially stepped up to the podium to talk about America's crumbling infrastructure and how he was working to fix it.
The improvement of our nation's roads and bridges is a very important topic, and one that Trump frequently discussed in the run up to last year's presidential election. Since his inauguration, however, other priorities have gotten in the way--priorities like changing the country's immigration policy and repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Those efforts have proven more troubling than anticipated, and the looming debate around tax reform isn't likely to be a walk in the park, either.
Infrastructure repair is different. It's a priority among many Democrats. It's also a big deal with the corporate community--after all, bad roads lead to congestion and accidents, slowing the ability to do business.
Republicans aren't typically fans of major infrastructure projects since they require billions of dollars in federal spending. However, as a Republican president, Trump could potentially woo enough support to effect real change.
What's the plan?
Joined at the podium by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Trump didn't offer many details about his $1 trillion plan to improve America's infrastructure. It would've been hard for him to do so, since there's no bill outlining his proposal just yet.
While that legislation is being written, however, Trump has issued an executive order that undoes many of the environmental restrictions placed on infrastructure projects during the Obama administration. Those restrictions required federal agencies to consider the effects of global warming when approving new projects. For example, agencies had to ensure that new highways would be built in ways that spared them from floods due to rising sea levels.
Trump's executive order also streamlines the approval process for new projects, reducing the wait time for required permits and reviews.
In the wake of the president's explosive, unrelated comments about white nationalism, there's not been much discussion of the executive order. At least one Republican representative--Rob Bishop of Utah--cheered the move, while at least one business group has denounced it, insisting that it could lead to bad infrastructure investments.
Can we reach infrastructure agreement?
There's no doubt that America's infrastructure is in dire shape, and the worse it gets, the more it impedes our ability to live, work, and play. Fixing it should be a priority.
Who should foot the bill, however, is a divisive question.
Ordinarily, Trump's status as a Republican would be enough to win GOP votes, and infrastructure spending could play very well with Democrats, setting the stage for a bipartisan win. However, we're not living in ordinary times.
Given Trump's comments yesterday, he's likely too toxic for Democrats to side with--at least for now. His statements are giving Republicans pause, too, as are his sagging approval ratings. That might be enough to diminish their already tepid support for infrastructure spending.
Over time, of course, the situation may improve, becoming more favorable for legislative victory. For now, however, an executive order will have to do.