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Trump, Congress announce progress toward infrastructure deal, amidst Mueller standoff

Hints of bipartisanship emerged between congressional Democrats and the White House Tuesday as the two sides announced a $2 trillion general agreement to renew aging U.S. infrastructure. The apparent progress came despite a standoff over investigations related to the Mueller report. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff and Yamiche Alcindor to discuss the unusual episode of "good will."

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There were hints, actually, of bridging some of the political divides between House Democrats and the White House today.

    But, as Lisa Desjardins reports, tensions over the balance of power remain.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amid a mounting legal showdown between congressional Democrats and President Trump on oversight…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calfi.:

    We just had a very productive meeting with the president of the United States.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    … a rare bipartisan $2 trillion general agreement between Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders on a historically elusive, desperately needed plan to rebuild America's aging infrastructure.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    There was good will in this meeting. And that was different than some of the other meetings that we have had, which is a very good thing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Senate Leader Chuck Schumer praised Mr. Trump's commitment to the issue. The White House, too, lauded the meeting in a statement as — quote — "excellent and productive," adding, "The president looks forward to working together in a bipartisan way."

    But there was quite an elephant in the room, a series of investigations by House Democrats into President Trump, his administration, and the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

  • Donald Trump:

    We're fighting all the subpoenas.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Last week, Mr. Trump pledged to block those efforts.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    All of us want to get something done on infrastructure.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today, Pelosi and Schumer insisted Democrats can do both, broker policy deals with the president and investigate him.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    I believe we can do both at once. We can come up with some good ideas on infrastructure, and the House and the Senate can proceed in its oversight responsibilities. The two are not mutually exclusive, and we were glad he didn't make it that way.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So far, the administration mostly has stonewalled House Democrats' probes. Subpoenaed officials have refused to testify or produce documents on issues ranging from the president's tax returns to Mr. Trump's attempts to limit the Mueller investigation.

  • William Barr:

    Some of the episodes examined didn't amount to obstruction.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Attorney General Bill Barr has threatened to not testify Thursday about the Mueller report because House Democrats would like their attorneys to ask some of the questions, this as Mr. Trump and three of his children have filed a lawsuit against two banks in an attempt to block those banks from complying with House subpoenas demanding Trump financial information.

    That lawsuit says Democrats are using the subpoenas to harass Mr. Trump. But House Democrats, like House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, are digging in.

  • Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.:

    He may file the lawsuit, but that's not the end of this game.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As Democrats pursue lawsuits and subpoenas against the president in court, they will keep meeting with him in person to talk infrastructure. The next sit-down is planned to happen in three weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa Desjardins joins me now, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you.

    Yamiche, I'm going to start with you. It sounded like the two sides are ready to work together. We heard them in Lisa's piece. But what are they saying at the White House about what this looks like?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, we have definitely been here before, Judy.

    The president has said that it's infrastructure week on several different occasions, without an infrastructure bill actually being passed. What we do know is that this meeting went a lot different than past meetings between the president and Democratic leadership.

    In the past, the president has stormed out when talking about immigration. This meeting, the White House said, was productive and it was actually excellent. The two sides came together on that figure, $2 trillion for infrastructure.

    The issue, of course, is that both sides have different ideas on how to come up with that $2 trillion. The White House is interested in private and public partnership. Democrats have other ideas. The president, however, I'm told and sources told reporters that the president didn't bring up oversight and the idea that he feels harassed by the Democrats looking into his finances and the Mueller report.

    And, as a result, this could mean that the president is willing to go forward on infrastructure. The big thing here, though, is that there were not Republicans at this meeting.

    And I put the question Senator Schumer, are Republicans going to be at the next meeting? He said no. The president, though, during the meeting, said — quote — "I will lead on this."

    So essentially the president's party is letting the president go forward with infrastructure, and then they will come in at a later date. So things are looking better than in the past.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, you have been talking to Democrats. What are they saying about the meeting and what the prospects look like?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

    Democrats feel they actually gained a little bit of important ground here, in that the president said he wants infrastructure money not to go just for bridges and roads, traditional concepts, but something Democrats want very badly, which is rural broadband.

    That's also something a lot of rural Republicans need very much as well. So, they feel like that was a win. Also, they say the president agreed to use some of this money to make the grid more efficient. That's something that Democrats say is related to climate change, for example.

    As for Republicans, Yamiche has it exactly right. When you talk to Senate and House Republicans, they're waiting this out. They are used to this president putting a claim in the ground and then moving his position. They are going to wait to see what his final position is.

    One open question right now is whether the president would support a gas tax help to fund all of this. That's something that he has not directly answered yet. He, in fact, has indicated he's open to it. That's something congressional Republicans generally do not like.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you mentioned, Yamiche, the investigation Democrats are conducting in the wake of the Mueller report.

    What is the White House thinking at this point about how it's going to respond to all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, there are a number, of course, investigations that Democrats are pursuing.

    But the president essentially is saying, I don't want to work with Congress, because I see them as a biased organization. And the idea is that he thinks that, because he allowed his aides to talk to Mueller's team, he doesn't want them to then go up and be testifying at Congress.

    I talked to a source today, of course, at the White House that said there isn't a blanket directive to say, don't work with Congress at all. They say that they want to work with legitimate claims. That's a key thing there, because the White House is saying they don't see as legitimate inquiries into how Jared Kushner got his security clearance, per se.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, what are Democrats thinking about all this, as they pursue these investigations?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Democrats say that they think there is an advantage either way to whether the president cooperates or not. Overall, they say, we want more information on more investigations, as much as we can get, including the Mueller report.

    But they say if the president refuses to allow some of his executives to testify, or if he refuses to hand over document, Democrats say that helps them build up a legal case in court for saying that there is a constitutional concern, that the government — he must cooperate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

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