CINCINNATI >> Dogged by allegations in Washington, President Donald Trump traveled to friendlier territory today and promised to create a “first-class” system of roads, bridges and waterways by using $200 billion in public funds to generate $1 trillion in investment to pay for construction projects that most public officials agree are badly needed and long overdue.
“America must have the best, fastest and most reliable infrastructure anywhere in the world,” Trump said, pushing his infrastructure plan in middle America as Washington geared up for Thursday’s appearance before Congress by fired FBI Director James Comey.
“We will fix it,” said Trump, standing along the Ohio River. “We will create the first-class infrastructure our country and our people deserve.”
But the controversies and distractions in Washington continued to dog the president throughout the day. As he was speaking, the Senate intelligence committee released the prepared testimony Comey is expected to deliver Thursday. It includes detailed descriptions of meetings and phone conversations between Trump and Comey.
In the speech, the president also pressed the Senate to send him a health care bill, criticized congressional Democrats as “obstructionists” and revisited his controversial decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement.
Trump said that as he campaigned across the country last year, people often asked him why the U.S. was spending money to rebuild other countries when the roads and bridges they travel on needed rebuilding, too.
Trump declared the days of spending on other nations are over: “It’s time to rebuild our country” and to “put America first,” he said.
While infrastructure initially was seen as an area where Republican and Democrats could work together, Democrats have balked at Trump’s plan for using tax incentives and public-private partnerships to finance improvements. Many argue such a plan would result in taxpayer-funded profits for corporations with the cost loaded onto consumers.
Before the speech, Trump met aboard Air Force One with a pair of families the White House said were “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 another from Kentucky — are going through “turmoil” along with millions of other consumers who are facing rising premiums and limited choices for health coverage under the 2010 law.
“It’s just crazy expensive,” said Dan Withrow, president and owner of a pallet packaging and distribution company in Louisville, Kentucky. “Deductibles have gone crazy, the costs of the plans have gone crazy, and what I’ve done is I’ve absorbed most of the increases just so I can keep happy employees.”
“If I passed it all on to them, they would be paying outrageous rates,” he said.
“Now it’s time for the Senate to act and save Americans from this catastrophic event because Obamacare is dead,” Trump said. “Obamacare was one of the biggest broken promises in the history of politics. Remember ‘you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan?’ Didn’t work out that way.”
The Republican-controlled House has passed a health care bill that no Democrats supported. Senate Republicans are working on their own version.
Trump also mentioned his announcement last week that he was pulling the U.S. out of what he dismissively referred to as the “so-called” Paris climate accord. Trump has said the pact that nearly 200 nations agreed to in 2015 was unfair to the United States.
Trump said as long as he is president “we will never have outside forces telling us what to do and how to do it.”
The White House has yet to outline specifics of the infrastructure plan, which it hopes to achieve largely through public-private partnerships. It has proposed funding improvements with $200 billion in public funds over nine years that would theoretically leverage $1 trillion worth of construction.
Trump’s speech came the day before Comey’s highly anticipated testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday as the White House faced fresh 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.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president was “very focused on his agenda” in spite of the distractions.
“He’s going to continue moving forward with exactly what the people of this country elected him to do. And he’s not letting the distractions get in the way of that,” she said.
In a tweet early today, Trump also announced Christopher Wray as his pick to succeed Comey as FBI director. Wray is a former Justice Department official who was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s personal lawyer during the George Washington Bridge lane-closing investigation.
Trump spoke in Cincinnati at a marina, with a barge carrying West Virginia coal behind him.
U.S. inland waterways are critical routes for transporting goods, including coal and agricultural products, but officials say they’ve grown old and run down.