Trump pushes public works agenda, health care at Cincinnati visit

By Jill Colvin - Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) — President Donald Trump used the Ohio River as the backdrop for a Wednesday afternoon speech about upgrading roads, bridges and waterways.

But before talking about overhauling aging infrastructure, he urged the Senate to follow the House and vote on a bill to overhaul the health care system.

“Now it’s the Senate’s turn to act,” Trump said after meeting aboard Air Force One with a pair of families the White House described as “victims” of the Obama-era health care law that the president and congressional Republicans want to repeal and replace.

Trump said the families — one from Ohio and one from Kentucky — are going through “turmoil” along with millions of other consumers faced with rising premiums and limited choice for health coverage under the law.

“Obamacare is in a total death spiral and the problems will only get worse if Congress fails to act,” Trump said.

As the White House tries to shift the focus back to Trump’s legislative agenda, the president traveled to the Rivertowne Marina in Cincinnati to argue his case for efforts to repair aging levees, dams, locks and ports, as well as his larger public works aims.

“The American people deserve the best infrastructure in the world,” he was expected to say, according to speech excerpts released by the White House.

The White House has yet to detail specifics of the plan, which it hopes to achieve largely through public-private partnerships. It has proposed funding the improvements with $200 billion in tax breaks over nine years that would — in theory — leverage $1 trillion worth of construction.

The speech came a day before former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to Congress Thursday and as the White House faces new allegations about possible efforts by the president to influence the investigation into potential ties between his campaign and Russia. Trump has denied the allegations and called the Russia story “fake news.”

Trump, in a tweet early Wednesday, announced his pick for FBI director — Christopher Wray, a former Justice Department official who served as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s personal lawyer during the George Washington Bridge lane-closing investigation.

U.S. inland waterways are critical routes for transporting agricultural products, but officials say they’ve grown old and run down.

The White House has billed this week as “infrastructure week” and planned a series of events, beginning with a push by the president Monday to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system and separate it from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The president planned to host governors and mayors at the White House on Thursday to discuss the use of tax dollars for infrastructure projects.

While infrastructure was initially seen as an area where Republican and Democrats could work together, Democrats have balked at Trump’s plans for financing improvements, arguing they would result in taxpayer-funded corporate profits, with costs offloaded on consumers.

Mike Toohey, president of the Waterways Council Inc, an inland waterways infrastructure advocacy group, said he was pleased to see the president addressing what he called the “silent r” of the transportation system — rivers. Far more attention is usually paid to roadways, railways and runways, he said.

Still, he said the industry is concerned about Trump’s recent budget proposal, which he said could result in higher costs for the commercial users that finance the waterways’ upkeep.

As a candidate, Trump had promised to invest big money in Cincinnati’s infrastructure, including Interstate 71 and the overcrowded Brent Spence Bridge.

During a campaign stop in Wilmington Ohio last year, Trump said he would redirect billions of dollars in payments to the United Nations to combat climate change and “use that money to invest in America,” including replacing the double-decker bridge.

Defending tweeting

Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump defended his tweeting habit despite complaints from some Republicans that the president’s practice can be a distraction.

That’s the word from Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, who says Trump raised the issue unprompted at a White House dinner Tuesday night with several GOP senators and House members.

Zeldin told reporters that Trump upheld his tweeting.

Zeldin said Wednesday that the president “definitely believes that the tweets are an important, valuable tool to be able to get out his message over and through mediums when there might be another narrative that’s out there that might be a different perspective than what he’s trying to get out.”

Zeldin says Trump “wasn’t like on his heels defensive, but he was talking about it being valuable.”

Worker training

A White House official said Wednesday that President Donald Trump plans to give a speech next week to address worker training programs.

An assistant to the president, Reed Cordish, says the speech will touch on issues such as apprenticeships and community colleges to develop workers’ skills in order to increase hiring and job growth. Trump is slated to deliver the speech at the Labor Department on Wednesday, June 14.

At a panel hosted by the Business Roundtable on Wednesday, Cordish said the problem wasn’t a lack of government funding for worker training but ineffective programs. He declined to give policy specifics about the speech, except to say that “administrative” steps would be involved and that the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump would be part of the initiative.

By Jill Colvin

Associated Press