CINCINNATI, Ohio — Standing on the banks of the Ohio River, President Trump pledged Wednesday to rebuild America’s waterway transportation system and took a swipe at Democrats for failing to support his efforts.
Saying Americans “deserve the best infrastructure any where in the world,” the president promoted his $1-trillion plan to rebuild roads, bridges and canals with a direct investment of $200 billion from the federal government.
“It’s time to rebuild our country, to bring back our jobs, to restore our dreams,” Mr. Trump said.
The president blasted congressional Democrats, accusing them of blocking his plans at every turn.
“Every single thing is obstruction,” Mr. Trump said. “Honestly, if I were in that party, I wouldn’t be doing it that way. I’d be doing positive things. That’s why they lost the House, they lost the Senate, they lost the White House. People don’t want to see what’s going on. They want to see us come together. But I just don’t see them coming together — they’re obstructionist.”
With the media in Washington focused intensely on the advanced release of fired FBI Director James B. Comey’s testimony to Congress, Mr. Trump made only a veiled reference to the political furor. It came as he discussed his approval of the once-stalled Dakota Access pipeline.
“Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final link,” the president said to applause from the audience of about 400. “I just closed my eyes and said ‘do it.’ When I approved it, I thought I’d take a lot of heat. I took none, actually none. People respected that I approved it. I take so much heat for nonsense, it probably overrode the other. It’s like a decoy.”
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president “is very focused on his agenda.”
“He’s gong to continue moving forward with exactly what the people of this country elected him to do,” she said. “And he’s not letting the distractions get in the way of that. He’s traveling, staying on schedule, continuing to do meetings heavily focused on infrastructure and not letting anything, whether it is this or anything else, distract him from pushing forward on the big priorities that he’s laid out in his presidency.”
At the event in Ohio, Mr. Trump said his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and a Democratic Congress failed to help rebuild America in 2009 with an infamous $825-billion “stimulus” package.
“The last administration passed a stimulus package of which only a tiny 7 percent went to infrastructure, and much of that was just wasted money,” Mr. Trump said. “Remember ‘shovel ready’? Shovel ready wasn’t shovel ready, that I can tell you. We’re not going to repeat that mistake.” At the time the stimulus was passed, Mr. Obama and Democrats emphasized a priority on “shovel-ready” projects. Years into the plan, Mr. Obama admitted that many such stalled projects had not in fact been “shovel-ready.”
Seen on the river behind him Wednesday was a towboat with nine barges, which Mr. Trump said can carry the equivalent freight of 1,000 tractor-trailers. He said nearly 60 percent of U.S. grain exports travel down waterways to the Gulf of Mexico, and up to 25 percent of the nation’s energy cargo is transported along the nation’s systems of locks and canals.
“But these critical corridors of commerce depend on a dilapidated system of locks and dams that is more than half a century old and their condition … is in very, bad shape,” Mr. Trump said. “America must have the best, fastest and most reliable infrastructure anywhere in the world. We cannot accept these conditions any longer.”
The president was joined at the event by industry chiefs and labor leaders, as he tries to move on with an agenda that has been largely stalled in Congress. Mr. Trump also met on the trip with “victims” of Obamacare’s rising premiums and reduced coverage, hoping to put pressure on the Senate to complete a bill to repeal and replace the health-care law.
The push to enact a new infrastructure plan, normally an easy sell to Democrats, has been met with skepticism and derision among liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump, who refers proudly to his career as a builder, said the deteriorating state of American infrastructure is “a promise that’s gone unheeded.”
“It’s called restoring America, restoring our country,” Mr. Trump said. “The promise of a safe, reliable and modern infrastructure hasn’t been kept, but we’re going to keep it. American lives and livelihoods depend on our action together.”
He added with a hint of skepticism, “I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans to join together, if that’s possible, in the great rebuilding of America.”