Warning shots fired

The Democrats have fired the first salvo as they position themselves for an infrastructure bill – and it’s not the most auspicious of starts

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has issued the first ‘red line’ as Congress starts jockeying for position on the much-touted infrastructure bill.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, Schumer said Senate Democrats “will expect climate policies and funding” in any infrastructure bill that comes forward.

The fact that Schumer chose to send this letter just days before Trump’s officials are due to promote coal and other fossil fuels at a global climate conference in Poland perhaps gives an indication of just how far the politicians have to go to reach any agreement on what an infrastructure bill should look like.

As we reported in our most recent edition of the magazine, there had been some renewed hope from those in the P3 industry that the midterm elections might force the infrastructure bill up the agenda – simply because it is a policy that unites more than it divides.

With the House of Representatives having turned over to the Democrats, but the Senate more firmly in the grip of the Republicans after the election, the theory goes that ‘infrastructure’, in broad terms, is something that both parties can get behind and therefore an infrastructure bill might have some chance of passing both chambers. Thus, if Trump wants to get anything done in the final two years of his first term, he will need to work on issues like infrastructure that can command majorities in both chambers.

In that context, Schumer’s intervention could be seen as an effort to force Trump’s hand. By setting out the Democrats’ stall early on climate change and demanding that infrastructure be “more climate-resilient”, Schumer is effectively saying that the Republicans need to be willing to compromise if they want an infrastructure bill to get the backing of Congress.

Unfortunately, this president is not known for compromises. Nor does he take too kindly to being pushed into a corner.

As if to underline the fact that this is a president who does things differently, Trump has spent the last two years not passing an infrastructure bill, despite most experts considering it to be an easy early win – especially when his Republicans commanded majorities in both chambers of Congress.

So the question for many now will be: What does Schumer’s letter mean for the prospect of developing bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill?

After (relatively) warm words in the days after the midterms on both sides about the potential to work together on areas where there may be agreement – with infrastructure among the areas namechecked – this latest move suggests a shift back towards a more adversarial approach. Add to that the fiery meeting between Trump, Schumer and Nancy Pelosi this week, in which the president accepteed he would be willing to shut down government unless he go t money to build his proposed wall between the USA and Mexico, and things have quickly gone sour.

Does this, then, mean the end of the infrastructure bill, even before it has seen the light of day?

Well, we have seen time and again over the past two years that this president is unpredictable. But there is perhaps one sign recently that he can also be pragmatic when he wants.

For example, a few weeks back Trump agreed infrastructure priorities for New York with Governor Andrew Cuomo. The fact that Cuomo’s Twitter feed has a pinned tweet attacking the president and his politics seems not to have been a barrier to this deal.