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Pelosi, Schumer head to White House for infrastructure talks

Posted at 6:49 AM, May 22, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are set to meet with President Donald Trump for a second round of talks on infrastructure Wednesday — a meeting that will take place against the backdrop of rising tensions between Democrats and the White House over the administration's resistance to congressional investigations.

Further complicating any effort to reach a deal, the President sent a letter to Pelosi and Schumer Tuesday evening asking them to take up the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement before tackling infrastructure.

"Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package," Trump wrote.

Congressional Democrats have expressed concerns over the trade deal and have called for changes to the agreement. As a result, the President's last-minute request threatens to derail the potential to strike a deal on infrastructure.

The meeting has been expected to grapple with the thorny question of how to pay for a deal after Pelosi and Schumer announced at the end of last month's meeting with the President that Trump had agreed to a top-line price tag of $2 trillion for infrastructure spending, but that they would need to meet again to discuss how to pay for the plan.

In a joint statement later in the evening on Tuesday, Pelosi and Schumer made no mention of the trade agreement and instead focused on how to pay for an infrastructure deal, emphasizing that they expect Trump to come to the table with a proposal.

"On Wednesday, we look forward to hearing the President's plan for how to pay for this package," the top congressional Democratic leaders said.

"We told the President that we needed his ideas on funding," Schumer said at the conclusion of the initial meeting, adding, "Where does he propose that we can fund this because certainly in the Senate if we don't have him on board it will be very hard to get the Senate to go along."

The President in his letter to Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday wrote, "It would be helpful if you came to tomorrow's meeting with your infrastructure priorities and specifics regarding funding you would dedicate to each."

Infrastructure could be a rare area of bipartisan cooperation given that both Democrats and the President have long talked about investing in the nation's crumbling infrastructure as a top priority. But the sticking point in any deal will be how to pay for it and it is possible that hopes for finding common ground could crumble this week if no agreement is reached during the second round of talks over a way to pay for infrastructure investment.

The fact that hostilities between Democrats and the White House continue to escalate over congressional oversight efforts could make it more difficult to reach a compromise. Some House Democrats are calling for an impeachment inquiry as the administration blocks oversight efforts. Pelosi has argued in recent weeks that Trump is effectively building a case on his own for impeachment, but has also advocated for a cautious approach and worked to tamp down on impeachment talk on the Hill. The President and his allies, meanwhile, argue that Democrats are targeting him unfairly and out of purely partisan political motives.

The meeting also comes as congressional leaders and the White House are attempting to negotiate a broader fiscal deal involving the debt limit and looming budget caps -- a set of talks that might need to be settled before it is possible for Democrats and the President to determine how to pay for any potential infrastructure deal.

When Pelosi and Schumer return to the White House to talk infrastructure, they will again be joined by members of House and Senate Democratic leadership and congressional Democrats whose committees would be expected to play a role if a deal comes together.

According to aides, the congressional Democrats who will attend in addition to Pelosi and Schumer are: House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer; House Democratic Majority Whip James Clyburn, who told CNN that he will be attending; Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan; House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal; House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio; Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin; Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Patty Murray; Senate Democratic Chairwoman of Policy and Communications Committee Debbie Stabenow; Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden and Senate Environment Public Works Committee ranking member Tom Carper.