Politics

Trump pledges infrastructure action in Ohio as Comey crisis swirls

President wants to upgrade inland waterway system

CINCINNATI (CNN) - President Donald Trump traveled 400 miles to Cincinnati on Wednesday to push his plan to upgrade the United States' inland waterway system of locks and dams, promising that he would not allow the United States to "become a museum of former glories."

Though Trump stuck to the script, only veering from infrastructure to talk about health care briefly, his top White House aides were focused on what will happen less than two miles down Pennsylvania Avenue on Thursday, when James Comey is slated to deliver bombshell testimony about the former FBI director's conversations with the President and his eventual firing.

Comey's testimony has all but stalled Trump's legislative agenda, but the White House has tried to soldier on during what has been a bruising week.

Trump, too, tried to ignore the controversy on Wednesday. Asked by CNN whether he is concerned by what Comey will say to Congress, Trump smiled but ignored the question before getting into his limousine.

During his speech on Wednesday, though, the controversy that the President has inspired in his first months in office was clearly on his mind.

"I take so much heat for nonsense," Trump said while regaling the audience with a story about how he approved the Dakota Access Pipeline. Trump added that he thought he would have received more "grief" than he did when he made the decision.

"It probably overrode the other," he said. "It is like a decoy."

Trump, flanked by barges of West Virginia coal floating in the Ohio River, connected the need for a boost in infrastructure investment to jobs. The river has long been a connection between coal in Kentucky and West Virginia and steel mills in western Pennsylvania.

"America must have the best, fastest and most reliable infrastructure in the world," Trump said, referencing a five-day river shutdown because of damaged lock on the Ohio River. "We cannot accept these conditions any longer."

Trump also lamented the fact that he gets little to no Democratic support on Capitol Hill, failing to mention that Democrats have little incentive to work with an unpopular president.

"I wouldn't be doing it that way. I would be doing positive things," Trump said, acting like he was in the Senate. "That is why (Democrats) lost the House, they lost the Senate, the lost the White House ... They are obstructionists."

Wednesday's event, paired with Comey's testimony, is part of the dual screen reality the Trump White House is currently operating in. Even as the White House tries to publicly focus on one issue, they are regularly knocked off course by news about Comey's remarks and messages sent out by the President, often on Twitter.

And Wednesday was no exception. As Trump ended his speech in Cincinnati, the Senate intelligence committee posted the former FBI director's opening statement, which provided readers with a blow-by-blow recounting of Comey's interactions with Trump.

Trump's infrastructure plan relies heavily on tax cuts.

Though the President calls the plan a $1 trillion plan, Trump has previously proposed $200 billion in tax cuts that the White House and Trump administration hope will spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment.

Trump will also propose grants for rural areas to repair crumbling bridges, roads and waterways, a White House official said, and more control for cities and states to do the work they feel needs to get done.

"A difference between the President's proposal and Barack Obama's stimulus is the focus on accountability of how federal tax dollars will be spent," the White House official said, referencing Obama's 2009 spending bill. "The stimulus approach resulted in states just substituting federal highway dollars for state dollars."

Trump's plan also looks to cut permitting time for infrastructure projects from 10 years to two years.

"It is time to rebuild our country, to bring back our jobs, to restore our dreams, and yes, it's time finally to put America first," Trump said. "And that is what I have been doing, if you haven't noticed."


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