Speaking in Ohio, President Donald Trump is threatening to “hold up” the trade agreement his administration just finalized with South Korea to provide more leverage for talks with North Korea. (March 29)
RICHFIELD, Ohio â€”Unusually quiet for the better part of a week, President Trump let loose Thursday during an infrastructure speech that also featured presidential riffs on the border wall, the Democrats, Syria, trade, North and South Korea … and Roseanne.
Praising the high viewership for this week’s premiere of the revived RoseanneÂ sitcom, starring Trump supporter Roseanne Barr, the president told a group of union workers in Ohio: “Look at her ratings! Look at her ratings!”
Trump trumpeted Barr’s show during a speech designed to promote an infrastructureÂ plan based on public-private partnerships and reduced federal regulations.
“We will breathe new life into your very run-down highways, railways and waterways,” Trump told supportive union members. “We’ll transform our roads and bridges from a source of endless frustration into a source of absolutely incredible pride.”
The speech at times took on the air of a Trump campaign rally, as the president bragged about his record while ignoring issues like Russia or the claims of an affair by an adult film actress.
Arguing that tax cuts and previous de-regulations have juiced the economy, Trump described infrastructure as the “next phase of America’s economic comeback.”
The normally voluble president had not spoken in public since Friday, when he called aÂ hastily arranged news availability to announce he would sign a long-term spending bill just hours after threatening to veto it.
While House officials said Trump is working on a variety of matters behind the scenes, including efforts to build support for his infrastructure plan â€”Â the topic of Thursday’s visit to a suburb of Cleveland.
Describing Trump as “incredibly active,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said “there have been a number of major things that the President has taken action on and been engaged on, and he’s giving a major speech (Thursday).”
In addition to plan designed toÂ inspire public-private partnerships to rebuild the nations’s roads, bridges, and ports, Trump also weighed in on other topics during a meandering hour-long speech.
While promoting his economic and foreign policy policies in general, Trump also threw in a political pitch less than eight months before congressional elections. While telling the supportive crowd he needs more Republican votes in Congress to get his programs passed, he also acknowledged that the party which holds the White House “doesn’t do so well” in mid-term elections “because people get complacent … We cannot be complacent.”
Trump also complained that the U.S. doesn’t have as much money as it should for infrastructure because of “stupid” expenditures in the past, particularly overseas. As he did during the 2016 campaign, Trump again said the U.S. should have seized Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion of that country, which he blamed for the rise of ISIS.
The United States will also be withdrawing activity in the Syrian civil war, Trump said, telling the crowd that, with victory over ISIS imminent,Â “we’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”
At another point, Trump suggested he may hold up the newly re-worked free trade agreement with South Korea until he reaches some kind of agreement on North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
“You know why? Because itâ€™s a very strong card,” Trump said, though he did not elaborate.
During his infrastructure speech, Trump also again pledged to build an anti-migration wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, deplored the declaration of “sanctuary cities,” promised to protect Second Amendment gun rights, touted his nominations of conservative jurists, and attacked the news media.
After the Ohio event,Â Trump prepared to re-boardÂ Air Force One bound for Florida and a three-day Easter weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
Trump’s recent timeout comes amid new developments in the Russia investigation, an ongoing staff shakeup, and publicity over adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with the president â€” issues he did not broach during his remarks in Ohio.
Trump spokeÂ at a training site for a union of heavy-equipment operators, mechanics, and surveyors in the construction industry, workers who would presumably be involved in new road and bridge projects.
Last month, Trump proposed a plan that, in the words of the White House, “uses $200 billion in Federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments.”
Trump’s plan also calls for reducing government regulations and streamlining the permit process for construction projects.
Previewing the president’s appearance, the Council of Economic Advisers put out a report claiming that “a $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment would result in the employment of 290,000 to 414,000 additional infrastructure workers, on average, over a ten-year window.”
Congressional Democrats said the plan’s $200 billion in seed money is not big enough to spark a $1.5 trillion payout.
When the White House released the plan, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said local governments and private entities would have to raise taxes or fees to finance their end of the infrastructure plan. He described the plan as “aÂ Hollywood faÃ§ade” covering little more than “a flat mirage.â€
“The lack of direct investment would leave out large parts of America, particularly rural America, where local governments donâ€™t have the money or the traffic to attract private-sector investment,” Schumer said.
The political fate of the bill is uncertain.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said he is planning to address infrastructure “in about five or six different bills,” rather than one big package.
The White House has signaled support for that approach.
During his remarks in Ohio, Trump said that his plan “can be passed in one bill, or in a series of measures. What matters, is that we get the job done.”
Trump aides and congressional leaders both noted that infrastructure was part of the temporary spending bill that Trump signed at his last public appearance Friday, despite his objections.
“If you haven’t noticed, you elected a builder to be President of the United States,”Â Vice President Pence said during a Wednesday speech in Minneapolis. “And just last week, we got a down payment.”