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Trump’s infrastructure czar steps down

Associated Press Apr 3, 2018
DJ Gribbin with President Donald Trump speaking to CEOs about the regulatory process to build a highway, April 4, 2017, in Washington, D.C. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Trump’s infrastructure czar steps down

Associated Press Apr 3, 2018
DJ Gribbin with President Donald Trump speaking to CEOs about the regulatory process to build a highway, April 4, 2017, in Washington, D.C. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

DJ Gribbin, President Trump’s point person on a much-heralded infrastructure bill, is leaving his position at the White House to “move on to new opportunities,” according to a White House official.

Gribbin’s departure comes just days after President Trump conceded that his infrastructure proposal — often described as a top administration priority — is likely to remain stalled through at least the end of the year. “We probably have to wait until after the election because the Democrats say, ‘don’t give him any more wins,'” Trump said at an event on Thursday in Richfield, Ohio.

Trump released his long-discussed infrastructure plan in February. It proposes to spend $200 billion in federal money to generate $1.5 trillion from private investors, and state and local governments. But the plan has gone nowhere in Congress amid deep skepticism that it will produce the huge returns promised by the Trump administration.

Five of Trump’s Cabinet members appeared at a Senate hearing last month to discuss the plan but failed to sway lawmakers, who wondered how the administration would come up with the $200 billion in federal money.

“Until this administration comes forward with an actual concrete plan as to how we pay for it, let’s be honest with the American people, this is just smoke and mirrors right now,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, said at the Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation hearing.

Gribbin did not return messages, but a White House official said Gribbin is leaving now that Trump’s infrastructure plan has been released. There is no set date for Gribbin’s departure.

“DJ was a key part of the team that turned the president’s ambitious vision for rebuilding America’s infrastructure into the policy proposal the president released in February,” said Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser. “The [National Economic Council] will continue to push the president’s infrastructure initiative as part of his pro-growth economic agenda.”

Gribbin’s resignation is another setback for a White House struggling to gain traction on what has long been a priority for Trump.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd gathered at the Local 18 Richfield Facility of the Operating Engineers Apprentice and Training, a union and apprentice training center specializing in the repair and operation of heavy equipment on March 29, 2018 in Richfield, Ohio.

In the early months of Trump’s presidency, administration officials hoped to quickly release a plan that would outline Trump’s vision to fix the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and other public works projects. But the proposal kept getting pushed back in favor of efforts to overhaul the health care system and the tax code.

When the White House finally started its infrastructure rollout, other news repeatedly overshadowed it. In June, a series of White House events dubbed “infrastructure week” was eclipsed by headlines focusing on former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to Congress.

At an August news conference aimed at streamlining federal infrastructure permits, Trump diverted from his message by defending the conduct of white nationalists at a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

When Trump released his plan in February, it was sidetracked yet again when — in the span of one week — his personal attorney admitted to paying an adult film star $130,000 before the election, a top White House aide was accused of spousal abuse and a teen-ager committed a deadly school shooting in Florida.

With its repeated failed rollouts, “infrastructure week” has become a running joke among pundits and news reporters.

Gribbin, who worked for two infrastructure firms with expertise in privatization, was a key person in building support for Trump’s plan. He repeatedly met with officials from trade groups, state and local governments, and other entities to discuss the proposal. He’s a vocal advocate for public-private partnerships or P3s.

Trump’s plan would spur state and local governments to pay a larger share of infrastructure projects. In some instances, such projects would rely on increased private investment.

Several states, such as Texas, Colorado and Indiana, have relied heavily on P3s with mixed results. There has been heavy resistance to private investment in Texas after the state allowed private toll-road projects in Dallas, Houston and Austin under then Gov. Rick Perry. In Indiana, a private firm that bought an Indiana toll road went bankrupt in 2014. The state is also struggling to complete a highway project that relied on private investment.

Critics of privatization say the plans would shortchange low-income and rural parts of the country. Trump, who made billions in real estate, told a bipartisan group of lawmakers in October that he didn’t think P3s were the best option, according to officials who attended the private meeting.

There is increasing urgency for the federal government to pass a bill to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade in 2017. They say that by 2025 the nation will need to spend $1.4 trillion more on infrastructure.

White House officials did not say who would replace Gribbin.

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