Like the Bermuda Triangle or Spinal Tap’s new drummer, the words “Infrastructure Week” seem to be cursed.
No fewer than seven times – including this very week – has Trump’s White House declared that its chosen theme of a week would be infrastructure – only to see those plans thwarted, often by the President himself.
It all began back on Monday, June 5, 2017. Trump had a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to sell – and he had a week of events on the docket from a Rose Garden speech early in the week to a trip to Ohio later in the week. And he did those things! But that week was also when fired FBI Director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill about his time working with Trump. And when a terrorist killed six civilians in an attack near London Bridge. And when the debate over whether Trump’s proposed “travel ban” was actually a “ban” began to heat up.
Trump couldn’t resist. He called out London Mayor Sadiq Khan for allegedly saying that there was “no reason to be alarmed” in the wake of the attack. (Trump took Khan’s comments out of context.) He contradicted his staff’s attempts to take some of the heat out of the travel ban fight with this tweet: “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” And in the wake of Comey’s testimony this tweet: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”
As CNN’s Dan Merica wrote at the time:
“This puts aides in a tough position. While they want to push policy reforms, like they did over the weekend, they almost always find themselves getting distracted by 140-character messages from the President himself.”
And this concluded Infrastructure Week No. 1.
Trump’s second swing-and-miss on infrastructure came later that summer, when he kicked off the week by holding a meeting in New York City with his, uh, infrastructure team and signing an executive order that theoretically would make the permitting for these projects simpler. Seems – well – simple, right? Nope! In a press conference at Trump Tower that was ostensibly aimed at selling his infrastructure plan, Trump instead spent much of the time defending his comments that there had been good people on “both sides” in the recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump reiterated. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”
So long, Infrastructure Week No. 2!
And on and on it went.
Trump announced a new $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan the week of February 12, 2018. But that one was doomed from the start, as the resignation of senior White House aide Rob Porter amid allegations of domestic abuse dominated the headlines. That was also the week we learned one-time Trump attorney Michael Cohen had paid hush money to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about allegations of an affair with Trump. And the week ended in tragedy – with 17 children and adults murdered in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The White House tried again in late March of last year, with Trump again traveling to Ohio to, in theory, put pressure on Congress to act on his infrastructure plan. Trump derailed that plan even as he was giving the speech. Here’s how CNN covered his remarks:
“President Donald Trump used what was billed as an infrastructure event on Thursday to instead deliver a politically tinged address that veered from foreign policy to Republicans’ prospects in upcoming elections to the reboot of Roseanne Barr’s sitcom.”
Which, yeah, right. Even had Trump stayed on message in that speech, however, Infrastructure Week No. 5 (or No. 6? I’ve lost count) was probably doomed anyway. Why? Because former Playmate Karen McDougal, who alleged she had an affair with Trump in the mid-2000s and was paid off by the National Enquirer, which subsequently buried the story, sat down for an explosive interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Plus, the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – which happened March 13 – was still roiling Washington.
All of which brings us to this week, aka Infrastructure Week, part infinity. On Wednesday, Trump and the two top Democrats in Congress – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – were scheduled to sit down and hash out the details of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan. That meeting lasted all of five minutes, as Trump stormed out – put off by Pelosi suggesting he was engaging in a “cover-up” with his administration’s refusal to cooperate with any of the investigations being run by House Democrats.
“I came here to do an infrastructure meeting with Democrats – not really thinking that they wanted to do infrastructure or anything else other than investigate. And I just saw that Nancy Pelosi, just before our meeting, made a statement that we believe that ‘the President of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.’ It turns out I’m the most – I think most of you would agree to this – I’m the most transparent President probably in the history of this country.”
RIP, Infrastructure Week. Again.
The curse of Infrastructure Week is best understood as a window into both the modern presidency – and how Trump views the office. News happens, and when it does, the American president is required to not just offer thoughts on it but direct his attention to it. That’s a challenge for any president. But Trump exacerbates that difficulty by displaying a childlike inability to stay on message for even a day – much less an entire Infrastructure Week.
Brenna Williams contributed to this report.