President Donald Trump’s meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will be the group’s first huddle since meeting in December. | Mary Altaffer/AP Photo
The Democratic leaders meet with the president at the White House for the first time since the 35-day shutdown.
By HEATHER CAYGLE
04/29/2019 01:50 PM EDT
Updated 04/29/2019 03:49 PM EDT
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are laying out a series of hefty of demands ahead of their meeting with President Donald Trump Tuesday, a move that could potentially blow up the bipartisan infrastructure talks before they really begin. In a letter to Trump Monday, the House speaker and Senate minority leader detailed three infrastructure priorities they want to discuss in their first meeting with the president since the televised Oval Office blow-up over government funding in December.
But a source close to Schumer went even further than the letter, saying unless Trump considers rolling back some of the 2017 Republican tax cuts to pay for new investments, the top Senate Democrat won’t even consider a proposal from the president to raise the gas tax — the main mechanism for funding federal highway and transit programs. A spokesman for Pelosi did not immediately return a request for comment on whether she agreed with the position. Story Continued Below
It’s unlikely Trump would agree to renegotiate his major legislative achievement — leaving party leaders without a clear way to pay for any bipartisan infrastructure deal.
“As you know, the issue of infrastructure is a bipartisan congressional priority and we believe there are significant majorities in both the House and Senate to take action on the issue,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote to Trump on Monday.
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In the letter, Democratic leaders outlined three areas where they want to work with the president when they gather at the White House on Tuesday. In addition to revenue, the top two Democrats want Trump to agree that any infrastructure deal will expand beyond transportation to include water and energy projects, among other initiatives, and rely on products and companies based in the U.S.
The topic of how to fund the nation’s highways and transit systems has vexed leaders of both parties for years, with lawmakers refusing to raise the gas tax since it was last increased more than 25 years ago. And it isn’t any easier this time around, with congressional leaders and Trump eyeing a potentially multi-trillion dollar public works infusion.
But the letter is also a way for Democratic leaders to try to set the tone ahead of the highly-anticipated meeting, the first huddle between the two sides since a combative Oval Office meeting in December to talk government funding. This is also the first time Trump and Pelosi will meet at the White House since she won back the speaker’s gavel in January.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the meeting a “good first step” on Monday but declined to say what if anything Trump would propose to Democrats.
“Certainly it is a big step that both sides who, frankly, had a lot of hostility toward one another over the last couple months are sitting down as the table and discussing an issue that has to be addressed,” she said.
Democrats have been bracing for the meeting and are taking steps to anticipate and counteract Trump’s unpredictability — everything from whether the president will try to televise the entire gathering to what to do if he veers off script and into discussions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Pelosi and Schumer will be accompanied by several House and Senate Democrats who will have a say in any infrastructure deal. Top Democrats are also expected to huddle Monday night to plan for their encounter with Trump.
The meeting comes as House Democrats are simultaneously pursuing a barrage of investigations into nearly every aspect of Trump’s orbit, from his administration to his business dealings and personal finances.
Just this week, House Democrats are expected to hear from Attorney General William Barr on his handling of the Mueller report as well as a former top official on potential security clearance abuses inside the administration. But House Democrats have repeatedly sparred with top administration officials over the parameters of such hearings and their refusal to testify or provide documents lawmakers are demanding.
Still, Pelosi has long said infrastructure is an area where House Democrats can come together with Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate this Congress. The idea — which Trump made a central plank of his campaign for the White House — was a focus of Democrats’ annual retreat earlier this month.
Pelosi called Trump in early April and personally requested the meeting. The two have not spoken since that call, according to the White House.
In addition to Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) will attend the meeting. House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) are also on the invite list.
On the Senate side, Schumer will be accompanied by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other members of Democratic leadership, including Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrats whose committees deal with transportation, will also attend.
Anita Kumar contributed to this report.
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