The White House came out swinging Tuesday ahead of a presidential meeting with Democrats on a potential infrastructure plan and a day after former Vice President Joe Biden held his first presidential campaign rally.
“Do we even agree on what is defined by infrastructure?” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said about an hour before top Democrats were set to hold talks with President Donald Trump, setting a low bar for the meeting.
To hear Conway define it means repairing roads, bridges and the air travel system, she said, before criticizing Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer for a Monday letter that floated a plan to include renewable energy provisions in a package.
Conway declined to point to a specific federal funding level for a sweeping infrastructure plan that the president might support. But she did suggest he would be open to negotiating with Democrats on some of the clean energy and other items White House officials believe they define under the infrastructure umbrella.
“I believe that some of them (Democrats) believe it’s also about building schools and hospitals, or dog parks and more bike trails. So maybe that’s for negotiation because we have to have a very big, robust plan to help … the number of roads and bridges that are way behind schedule,” she said.
Still, she said White House officials are “glad” Democrats asked for the meeting, saying Trump is “happy to have it.”
The meeting will be a test to see if Trump can work on legislation with the very House Democrats who are investigating his business dealings and political actions. Some in that caucus continue to call on their leadership to launch impeachment proceedings in the wake of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, which did not clear the president on obstruction of justice.
Conway repeatedly signaled Trump would reject any call by the Democrats to raise the gas tax to pay for an infrastructure measure. But when pressed, she was unable to describe any Trump administration plan to finance a massive infrastructure modernization bill; a White House plan that was quickly rejected by members of both parties on Capitol Hill called for the overwhelming majority of the funds to come from a variety of vague sources.
“If this is a ruse to come out to the sticks and say, ‘We just got the president. We just handed him a bill to raise the gas tax, we’re going to raise taxes, this president has lowered taxes,’” Conway said, referring to the microphones outside the West Wing.
Conway spoke to reporters a day after Biden held his first rally at a firefighters union hall in Pittsburgh.
The longtime senator known in some circles as “Middle Class Joe” on Monday vowed to “rebuild the backbone” of the country.
“We need a president who works for all Americans,” the former VP said. “We’re in a battle for America's soul — I really believe it — and we have to restore it.”
Conway criticized the Obama administration, and by extension Biden, saying the 2010 health law has left 28,000 people without health insurance (even though that number is nearly half the number of uninsured before the law took effect) and did too little to grow the economy, although the growth numbers are roughly at parity with the last few years of the Obama administration.
“You can make a speech, but you don’t have to make sense, apparently,” she said, questioning how Biden could support both the 2010 law and allowing some or all Americans to access a Medicare-like health system: “Is Joe Biden not endorsing Obamacare the way Obama’s not endorsing Joe Biden?”
Notably, Conway acknowledged she “didn’t say” that Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are not potential threats to a second Trump term. But she did try to paint the Democratic 2020 presidential front runners as too old for the job. (Sanders is 77; Biden is 76; and Trump is 72.)
The Trump aide described Biden and Sanders as “two old, white men” who both are “career politicians.”