President Donald Trump revealed limited details of his $1 trillion infrastructure plan, thought to be his best chance for a major legislative achievement in the first year of his presidency.
Meeting first with corporate executives — many of whom he knows personally from his career as a New York real-estate developer — and then with a conference of construction trade unions, the president went into pitch mode for a plan that will lean heavily on private-sector investment and faster permitting. A legislative package could emerge as soon as next month.
“We’re going to cut a lot of red tape,” Trump told the business leaders, as D.J. Gribbin, his special assistant for infrastructure policy, held up a long chart illustrating the complexity of the permitting process.
The president complained that a simple federal highway project required approval from 16 agencies and took a decade or longer to complete.
He said permits under his plan would be issued within a year and contractors would need to be ready to start work on projects within 90 days.
“So, we’re really speeding up the process,” he said. “We’re going to try and take that process from a minimum of 10 years down to one year.”
Beyond that, Trump was short on details. He mentioned none of the dozens of projects that have been suggested to him by the nation’s governors, local officials, labor unions and investors.
After talking with executives, Trump brought his infrastructure vision to the North America’s Building Trades Unions, an umbrella organization for construction workers, and greeted the union members by saying he knew them “too well.”
“They cost me a lot of money,” he said to laughter. “But I love them, and they’re great and their people are fantastic.”
He talked about infrastructure, and then he bragged about his presidential election victory — which drew a less-than-enthusiastic response from a group that endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“So did you ever think you’d see a president who knows how much concrete and rebar you can lay down in a single day? Believe me, I know. I know,” he said. “We are a nation of builders, and it was about time we had a builder in the White House, right? We have a builder.”
Laughter, boos and whistles broke out among the union members in the audience when Trump said he “had the support of I would say almost everybody in this room.”
“We had tremendous support of the workers,” Trump went on, amid the noise.
Trump said he was calling on all Americans to come together and take part in the great rebuilding of America.
“With your help,” Trump said to the union members in the audience, “we can rebuild our country’s bridges, airports, seaports and water systems. We will streamline the process to get approvals quickly so that long-delayed projects can finally move ahead.”
He urged the union members to demand action from members of the House and Senate as they visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week.
“When you see them, you can tell Congress that America’s building trades and its president are very much united,” Trump said.
But that unity wasn’t very apparent among union members after the speech.
Charles Ruegge said he had walked out of the room when the president took the podium.
“I believe we’re being taken in by this man and we’re going to end up regretting it,” Ruegge said, who represents 1,800 sheet metal workers in Carol Stream, Illinois.
During Trump’s speech, security officers escorted out a handful of silent protestors holding up signs reading “resist.”
Marion Davis, who represents the teamsters’ construction division, said he’d been hoping Trump would reveal more about his promised infrastructure plan.
“I’d love to know that he has a plan in place,” Davis said. “We would have loved to hear him say we’re going to have an infrastructure plan and we’re going to do it with building trades.”
Davis also disputed Trump’s statement that most people in the ballroom had supported him.
“He got into a part in the middle there where he got some eyebrows raised, you can say that,” Davis said.
State and local officials as well as labor and environmental groups are eager to see Trump’s full plans to rebuild America’s infrastructure.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told the executives on Tuesday that the infrastructure legislation could be unveiled next month.