Politics

Mike Pence Tells Mayors Infrastructure Bill Will Be ‘Big’

Obama commutations draw a crowd

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, pictured here with House GOP leaders, on Tuesday let a group of U.S. mayors know the incoming Trump administration plans to push a “big” infrastucture bill. How to pay for the measure, however, will be a major hurdle. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President-elect Donald Trump wanted a group of U.S. mayors gathered in Washington to know his administration will be a “friend” starting Friday, when he will be sworn in.

So he instructed his vice president-in-waiting, Mike Pence, to deliver a message to them on Tuesday when he addressed their conference: “Tell ‘em we’re going to do an infrastructure bill, and it’s going to be big,” the Republican president-elect said during a phone conversation with Pence.

Pence vowed the envisioned package will have ample funding to address many challenges at the local and state level, but did not elaborate on the envisioned plan's size. Nor did he explain how the new administration will convince its party’s fiscal conservatives to support it.

[(VIDEO) White House Watch: What to Watch for in Trump’s Inaugural Address]

GOP leaders have signaled their support, but have said it will be important for the bill to be “paid for” with spending cuts. That could prove challenging if Trump and Republican leaders want to pass any infrastructure bill with GOP votes because, as House Deputy Republican Whip Tom Cole, R-Okla., recently told Roll Call, those so-called “pay fors” are among the hardest things to negotiate in Washington.

White House Calls Price Allegations ‘Pretty Concerning’

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called a report that Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, Rep. Tom Price, bought shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device company, last year just before he introduced a bill delaying a regulation that could have damaged the company less than a week after the purchase.

Earnest called the CNN report “pretty concerning.” and said given the Trump team's vow to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption, the president-elect and his staff have a “unique obligation” to explain what Price did and his motivations.

The Trump transition on Tuesday denied that Price used information gleaned from his position as a member of Congress to make stock decisions.

President Pardons Manning, ‘Favorite General’

The White House, in one of its final late-in-the-day news dumps, announced Obama has commuted the sentences of 209 people, bringing his eight-year total to 1,385.

Among them were Chelsea Mannaing, an Army private convicted via court martial of leaking classified or sensitive documents to WikiLeaks, and retired Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, who was convicted of lying to federal authorities about the so-called Stuxnet cyber-warfare operation to interfere with Iran's nuclear arms program.

The president decided Manning’s six years in prison already served were sufficient, a senior White House official said.

Cartwright, as the Pentagon’s No. 2 uniformed official, developed a strong rapport with his commander in chief, and was among a short list of four-star officers said to be in the running to become Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman until his career ended abruptly. Cartwright also was well-liked among members of Congress, and his never-to-be nomination would likely have sailed through the Senate under different circumstances.

The official said Cartwright’s 40 years of service “weighed in the president’s decision.” What’s more, Obama also factored in that Cartwright did not provide a journalist with information he did not already possess, and that Cartwright’s conversations with that same journalist were focused on preventing the publication of information that would undercut national security, the official added.

Obama “likely” will commute more criminal sentences before he leaves office later this week. Those most likely will be announced on Thursday, the official added.

Obama’s Last Day Will Feature Skeleton Staff

Obama, who dropped by the White House briefing room on Tuesday to shower Earnest with praise during his final daily briefing, will be the president until about noon on Friday. But most of his staff will depart the White House and end their tenures on Thursday, Earnest said.

[White House Sees McAuliffe Playing Big Role for Dems in Post-Obama Era]

A major reason is the General Services Administration needs offices, including Earnest’s, vacated so they can ready them for Trump’s staffers to begin work as soon as their boss is sworn in at the Capitol. Earnest expects GSA will let him work in his West Wing office until 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Earnest, however, will have one more crack at reporters’ questions. He will speak Wednesday morning at a breakfast with reporters steps from the White House at the ornate St. Regis Hotel at 9 a.m. And Obama will return to the briefing room for one final press conference in the afternoon (exact time is TBD).

ICYMI: Low Approval Ratings Could Speed Possible Trump-GOP Clash

President-elect Donald Trump tried to cast doubts Tuesday on his low approval ratings, but the numbers — around half of those of his predecessor in 2009 — could accelerate an emerging collision with his own party. Read the full article from this morning here.

Quote of the Day

“That's an interesting metaphor he chose there,” said Earnest, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier Tuesday calling those who produced and leaked an alleged dossier of compromising information his government might have on Trump “worse than prostitutes.” (The unverified document contains a tale about Trump, two Russian prostitutes, a Moscow presidential hotel suite and a sexual act involving urination.)

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.