Jared Kushner: Trump is closer to Chuck Schumer's vision of the coming infrastructure bill than Mitch McConnell's

The perfect news to kick off a Friday night bender. No one has a direct quote on this, as the event at which Kushner said it apparently wasn’t recorded, but three different papers — the NYT, Daily News, and Politico — heard about it from people who were there.

The president-elect’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, told New York business leaders on Friday that Mr. Trump’s vision for a large-scale federal infrastructure program was “closer” to Senator Chuck Schumer’s, the incoming minority leader, than to the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell’s.

Mr. Kushner made the remarks at an event hosted by the Partnership for New York City, just after an appearance by Mr. Schumer, the New York senator.

This week at a news conference in Washington, Mr. McConnell said he was not interested in “trillion-dollar stimulus” to finance any infrastructure plan, setting up what could be the first of many clashes with a Trump White House that will not always hew to Republican orthodoxy.

Republicans want to do this mainly through tax credits, which Democrats fear won’t stimulate new construction projects but rather will act as giveaways to developers for projects that would have been built anyway. Democrats want to do it mainly through direct federal spending, which Republicans fear will end up producing the mother of all pork-barrel fiascos. Kushner’s comment, presumably, means that Trump is more inclined to do it through direct spending than through tax credits, even though credits are what he touted during the campaign when he had to worry about consolidating his own party. Steve Bannon also sounds like he wants to do things through direct spending, partly (or mainly?) because he knows that’s likely to produce more political benefits for Trump himself. Here he is an interview published last month:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

Borrow borrow borrow while interest rates are low and then spend spend spend. Bannon’s got his own little Works Progress Administration in mind. With the government paying for everything directly under the Schumer/Bannon model, blue-collar workers who are hired for new infrastructure projects will know that it’s the Developer-in-Chief, Donald Trump, whom they should thank for their new wages rather than some private developer who’s hiring them with help from a behind-the-scenes tax-credits incentive from Trump’s administration. Nothing wrong with a bigger, more proactive government throwing money around in the economy so long as it’s our guy who’s in charge of it, right?

But that creates a political dilemma for Schumer and the Democrats. If it’s Trump who’s likely to get most of the political credit for doing things their way, with a trillion dollars in new federal spending, why the hell should they help him pass this bill? They’re potentially signing their own political death warrant. There’ll be thousands upon thousands of families across the country who owe their new jobs to the “Trump stimulus” and are apt to reward Trump for it in 2020 — and maybe the GOP in 2018, even if most Republicans vote against the bill. Imagine if the Senate passes Trump’s plan with 60 votes, 48 from the Democratic caucus plus 12 squishes from the GOP, and most conservatives like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul vote no. Trump will hit the trail in 2018 for his party even though they crossed him on the bill, and if Bannon’s right about the political benefits, Trump’s endorsement could end up helping Republicans win some of those vulnerable Democratic seats in red states like Montana and Missouri. Schumer, in other words, could end up tanking his party by making Trump’s great infrastructure victory possible. Liberal Jonathan Chait sees it coming:

To be sure, it will be slightly awkward and embarrassing for Republicans in Congress to suddenly toggle their rhetoric from denunciations of wasteful pork to support for necessary infrastructure upgrades. But this is where Schumer plans to come and rescue them. His party will supply the votes for the bill that will create the jobs needed to make Trump popular, and thus to supply the tailwind for down-ballot Republicans. Conservative Republicans eager to maintain their anti-spending purity can cast symbolic votes against the bill without preventing it from coming to the floor. Then they can enjoy the political benefits from rising wages under their party’s government. And if the deficit rises? (Which it probably will, after a debt-financed infrastructure law, debt-financed tax cuts, and debt-financed defense hikes.) Well, then Republicans can point to the big-spending infrastructure bill Democrats passed over their objections, stuffed with Democratic pork. And they can demand cuts to social spending to rectify it.

I don’t see Ryan nemesis and FDR admirer Steve Bannon greenlighting entitlement cuts anytime soon, but the rest of Chait’s analysis seems probable. Kushner’s comment today may, in fact, be a reaction to what McConnell said earlier this week about opposing an infrastructure stimulus, now realizing that if Trump’s going to get something passed, he’s going to need Schumer to deliver for him rather than the GOP. If that means Trump abandoning his tax-credits idea and embracing the Schumer/Bannon plan for direct spending, then that’s what it means. The trick for Schumer will be convincing not only his Senate caucus that it’s worth going along with this despite the risk of handing Trump a big win but convincing the Democratic base that it’s okay to work with Trump when he’s bending over backwards to embrace Democratic ideas. The left is nervous about that, having derived from the GOP’s huge victory this year the lesson that obstructionism pays. Some liberals think the party should fight Trump at every turn, even when he’s willing to do things more or less their way, because it’s the president’s party that takes most of the blame when Congress is paralyzed. And it’s a cinch that Trump’s eventual infrastructure bill will contain some tax-credit sweeteners to win over centrist Republicans in the Senate, which will further anger a lefty base that’s already primed to call Schumer a sellout.

Schumer needs to decide as a threshold matter, in other words, whether he should follow the progressive strategy of obstructionism at all costs or whether he should work with Trump in matters of common interest, even if that means handing Trump a yuuuge political victory. According to this Politico piece, he’s already made his choice:

Privately, the soon-to-be Senate minority leader has opened up a back channel of communication with Trump and, according to Democrats who have spoken with Schumer since the election, he views Trump as someone he can try to maneuver.

Multiple sources said the two have spoken at length about legislation and appointments, in a series of phone calls that began with Trump phoning Schumer the morning after Election Day, to express hope that the two could work together…

Schumer, by nature, is a dealmaker, not an ideologue — and insiders said he’s more interested in keeping open a line of conversation with Trump Tower in the hopes of holding the seats of the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states where Trump won, a move designed to protect his caucus.

That’s the great hope for Schumer on infrastructure. If he and his caucus deliver for Trump, will it also be seen as their victory? Specifically, if Jon Tester votes for the bill and Trump goes into Montana in 2018 and asks red-state voters to defeat Tester anyway, whom do voters there side with? The president who spearheaded the big jobs program or the Democrat whose support was critical to making it law? Same goes for McCaskill in Missouri, Manchin in West Virginia, Bill Nelson in Florida, and on and on for all sorts of Dems who are up for reelection in states Trump won. Can Schumer get a guarantee from Trump in return for supporting the infrastructure bill that Trump won’t personally campaign against any Democrats who end up voting for it? He’d better get something in return. If Dems make Trump’s spending dream happen and Republicans get the credit, the GOP could end up with something close to a filibuster-proof Senate majority in 2019 — with an outside shot at 60 seats or better. Democrats would be completely locked out of government. The left would implode.