President Trump's economic surrogates were out and about today: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on TV, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Capitol Hill. They were talking up the administration's plans for trade renegotiation and tax reform, ambitious would-be changes to the American economy — and all changes that are being waylaid by American politics.
While we wait on some policy clarity, Kai Ryssdal called up Marketplace regular Lisa Goldenberg, president of the Delaware Steel Co. of Pennsylvania, to see what it's like running a business right now. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: We had you on right after the inauguration, 25th of January is when we talked to you. Here we sit in the middle of May. Lots obviously happening. When we talked to you last time you basically said, “Listen, the election's over. Let's get back to work.” How are you feeling now?
Lisa Goldenberg: I think it's time to get back to work. I think that I've never experienced so many distractions, personally. I think that it's kind of exhausted the American public, and with the news of an independent prosecutor, I think that it's very good news for everyone. I think that the president can get back to or begin to govern. I think he has some really good ideas, and with his group getting out of the day-to-day drama, they may or hopefully will begin to govern.
Ryssdal: Have you seen in your business doings signs of the chaos? I mean, has it been affecting you?
Goldenberg: Not really. I think that the economy is up, that people are spending more money, that steel is strong. Our numbers look stellar, and I think it's going to continue to do so. There's some summer softening in the market, but that's all kind of as expected. It has nothing to do with the White House, at least for right now.
Ryssdal: What do you most want Congress and the president to get done economically?
Goldenberg: We have lots of agreement across party lines. The Democrats have wanted infrastructure bills for how long? So I think that we have common goals. How you get there — some important differences. But if we're able to get out of the drama and into the governance, I do think there's some commonality.
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Ryssdal: Are you timing agnostic? You just want a sense of motion toward these goals, right? With the understanding that some of the chaos is going to linger and politics will get in the way to some degree?
Goldenberg: Politics seems to be getting in. It's like the fly in the ointment. We've been infested by flies. It's time to get things rolling. So you and I've spoken before about the idea of infrastructure and how exciting, but the timing of that, it's very not American. Americans want things now. And I was speaking with some of the group that worked on the Tappan Zee Bridge, both the creation and overall the infrastructure, just at dinner last night, and that bridge, the initial talks started in 2008. It won't be completed optimistically by late '18 probably, further '19, and some numbers are even looking a little longer. And that's not a criticism, that's reality. So, yeah, we better get started on infrastructure now or our grandchildren won't even begin to see it.
Ryssdal: You know, it's interesting. You and I have talked several times, many times over the past, I don't even know, two and a half, three, four years, and you have always come across as a pragmatist and a realist, and sometimes, you know, with a negative tone to it. Now you seem pragmatically optimistic, if that makes any sense.
Goldenberg: Well, I'm often called an optimistic cynic again, and I think it's true. I'm heartened that I think the special prosecutor has freed us up. I kind of feel like the toys have been taken away from all the children, the very naughty children, and now everybody can get back to work. It's time to go do your homework and do what you were hired to do. I'm so disappointed in much of the media. They do a really good job getting the word out. But then they belabor the word just to hear themselves speak. So it's really good to get the word out and then move on. So I want to take away some of these distracting toys and get back to work.