White House Watch: Get Ready For Infrastructure Year

It’s become a joke around Washington that every week is “infrastructure week” at the White House, a policy focus derailed usually within the first few hours of Monday by news developments (or President Trump’s tweets).

But with the GOP tax bill now on its way to a conference committee and (Republicans hope) the president’s desk, the administration has its eye on its next big legislative agenda item: a big infrastructure bill that would provide about $220 billion in funding for roads, bridges, and more. The bill would also have statutory changes to the process by which states apply for and receive that funding.

The president meets with his infrastructure policy team regularly, and he did so again earlier this week. According to one White House official, the administration’s goal is to provide Congress with a set of infrastructure priorities sometime in January. The target for passing a bill is a little fuzzier, though two different administration officials said early summer 2018 seems reasonable.

The infrastructure bill is a long time coming, given that the proposal was first included in the Trump administration’s plans for its first 100 days. The reality of governing, plus the higher priority placed in Congress on Obamacare repeal and tax cuts, have pushed the issue back, but a White House official characterizes the delay as a benefit. “We have done more advance work on this issue than anything we’ve done in this White House,” says the official.

The administration remains vague on any details, something Republicans on Capitol Hill have been grumbling about. “We need a little guidance from the White House on what they want to do,” says a GOP source.

Here are the administration’s broad principles: Federal money for projects should supplement state and local funding; those localities applying for federal money should be incentivized to raise their own revenue first; local projects should be prioritized over federal ones; permitting and approval should be streamlined and modernized.

One More Thing—The White House’s biggest concern about getting an infrastructure bill passed is that the idea of shifting more spending power—an official calls it “decision-making”—to the states threatens the influence of the numerous congressional committees with jurisdiction over infrastructure spending. But the broad, bipartisan popularity in the country with more spending on roads and the like ought to override these parochial concerns on Capitol Hill, or so the thinking is.

Another concern the White House ought to consider: By summer 2018, both parties will be in the throes of the midterm election cycle. Will Republicans in Congress want to expend the political energy to pass infrastructure? Will Democrats, perhaps looking at a good election year, have any incentive to work with the GOP, when they haven’t so far during the Trump presidency?

President Trump announced Wednesday the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there from Tel Aviv, earning accolades from conservatives and some bipartisan support, but also drawing concerns the move could lead to unrest in the Arab world.

My colleague Jenna Lifhits reported on the story:

Trump broke with decades of precedent in his announcement, declaring that “old challenges demand new approaches” and hailing the recognition of Jerusalem as a “necessary condition” for peace in the region.

“Through all of these years, presidents representing the United States have declined to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In fact, we have declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital at all,” Trump said. “But today we finally acknowledge the obvious.”

The president stressed that the administration maintains its commitment to a peace agreement.

“We are not taking a position of any final status issues including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders,” he said. “Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

Administration officials told reporters Tuesday the decision would not “change the status quo with respect to the holy sites.”

Be sure to read Matthew Continetti at the Washington Free Beacon on the Jerusalem announcement, what he calls “one of the boldest moves” of Trump’s presidency.

Middle East Watch—The Jerusalem declaration wasn’t President Trump’s only major Wednesday foreign policy move. The White House released an afternoon statement demanding that Saudi Arabia lift an economic blockade on neighboring Yemen.

“I have directed officials in my administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it,” Trump said in a statement. “This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately.”

Saudi Arabia implemented the blockade of Yemen’s Red Sea ports last month after Iran-backed Houthi rebels fired a missile toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Human rights groups and the United Nations have condemned the blockade, saying it is contributing to the starvation of millions of people in the already impoverished state.

Things That Make You Go “Hmmm…”—From Politico: “Trump Jr. cites attorney-client privilege in not answering panel's questions about discussions with his father”

Impeachment Watch—If Democrats still hold hopes of impeaching President Donald Trump before he leaves office naturally, they've got their work cut out for them. The first floor vote for impeachment failed miserably Wednesday, with most Democrats supporting Republicans in a 364-58 vote to kill the measure.

Congressman Al Green of Texas forced the vote against the wishes of his party’s leadership, with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi saying that “now is not the time” to consider impeachment.

Will Al Franken be resigning from the Senate on Thursday? That seems to be the trajectory for the Minnesota Democrat, who saw an avalanche on Wednesday of his fellow Democrats call for his resignation after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct—including a new accusation Wednesday morning.

Among those calling for Franken’s resignation was the top Senate Democrat, minority leader Chuck Schumer, which suggests the Saturday Night Live alum-turned-politician is likely on his way out. Franken will make an announcement about his future Thursday morning.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is traveling in Europe this week, where regional leaders have turned frosty toward the American delegation.

In a joint appearance with Tillerson Tuesday, European Union diplomat Federica Mogherini criticized the administration's new pledge to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying that “a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as a future capital of both states.”

“We believe that any action that would undermine these efforts must absolutely be avoided,” Mogherini said.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Tillerson strove to couch the Israel decision in non-confrontational terms, urging that allies “listen carefully to the entirety of [Trump’s] speech” and assuring them that “we continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved, and the president has a team that is devoted to that entirely.”

Tillerson also assured assembled diplomats that America was not growing too friendly with the Putin regime, condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine and saying “there is no normalization of dialogue with Russia today.”

“Having dialogue just to be talking and trying to regularize or renormalize this relationship cannot be undertaken,” Tillerson said, “until Russia begins to address these actions which we find not just unacceptable, but intolerable.”

Russia approached the Trump administration back in January with an offer of restoring full diplomatic ties between the two countries, the Kremlin said in September.

Here’s a useful tool to determine how the Republican tax plan could affect your tax bill, via the Wall Street Journal.

Song of the Day—“Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash

Source : http://www.weeklystandard.com/white-house-watch-get-ready-for-infrastructure-year/article/2010749

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