Trump's infrastructure plan will likely get bipartisan support: Money manager
NEW YORK -- Combative and insistent, President Donald Trump declared anew Tuesday "there is blame on both sides" for the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, appearing to once again equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them.
The president's comments effectively wiped away the more conventional statement he delivered at the White House a day earlier when he branded members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as "criminals and thugs."
Trump's advisers had hoped those remarks might quell a crush of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. But the president's retorts Tuesday suggested he had been a reluctant participant in that cleanup effort.
During an impromptu press conference in the lobby of his Manhattan skyscraper, he praised his original response to the Charlottesville clashes and angrily blamed liberal groups in addition to white supremacist for the violence. Some of those protesting the rally to save a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee were "also very violent," he said.
"There are two sides to a story," he said. He added that some facts about the violence still aren't known.
His remarks were welcomed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth."
Trump's handling of the weekend violence has raised new and troubling questions, even among some supporters, about why he sometimes struggles to forcefully and unequivocally condemn white supremacist groups.
Members of his own Republican Party have pressured him to be more vigorous in criticizing bigoted groups, and four business leaders have resigned from a White House jobs panel in response to his comments.
Democrats were aghast at Trump's comments Tuesday. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said on Twitter that the Charlottesville violence "was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts." Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said on Twitter that he no longer views Trump as his president.
"As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment," Schatz said. "This is not my president."
Violence broke out Saturday in Charlottesville, a picturesque college town, after a loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists assembled to protest the city's decision to remove a towering statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a man plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Trump appeared to defend both the extremists' right to protest, noting they had a permit, and Confederate statues.
"So, this week it's Robert E. Lee," he said. "I noticed that Stonewall Jackson's coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?"
As Trump talked, his aides on the sidelines of the lobby stood in silence. Chief of staff John Kelly crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, barely glancing at the president. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders looked around the room trying to make eye contact with other senior aides. One young staffer stood with her mouth agape.
When asked to explain his Saturday comments about Charlottesville, Trump looked down at his notes and again read a section of his initial statement that denounced bigotry but did not single out white supremacists. He then tucked the paper back into his jacket pocket.
Trump, who has quickly deemed other deadly incidents in the U.S. and around the world acts of terrorism, waffled when asked whether the car death was a terrorist attack.
"There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism?" Trump said. "And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing."
Trump said he had yet to call Heyer's mother, said that he would soon "reach out." He praised her for what he said was a nice statement about him on social media.
As Trump finally walked away from his lectern, he stopped to answer one more shouted question: Would he visit Charlottesville? The president's response was to note that he owned property there and to say it was one of the largest wineries in the United States.
THE EXECUTIVE ORDER
Trump said Tuesday he has signed a new executive order intended to make more efficient the federal permitting process for construction of transportation, water and other infrastructure projects without harming the environment.
Trump's order includes revoking an earlier executive order signed by President Barack Obama requiring that projects built in flood plains with federal aid take sea level rise driven by climate change into account in their design, White House officials said. Trump has suggested the predicted risks from sea level rise are overblown.
A copy of Trump's executive order wasn't immediately available. Describing his action, Trump said projects will still be subjected to environmental safeguards.
"It's going to be quick, it's going to be a very streamlined process," Trump said. "And by the way, if it doesn't meet environmental safeguards, we're not going to approve it. Very simple. We're not going to approve it."
Building trade groups had urged Trump to revoke the flood plain order, saying it was overly bureaucratic and increased the cost of projects.
A recent draft of an upcoming report from scientists representing 13 federal agencies say sea levels along U.S. coastlines could rise by more than one foot on average by 2050, potentially more in the Northeast and western Gulf of Mexico. A projected increase in the intensity of hurricanes in the North Atlantic will increase the probability of "extreme coastal flooding."
Environmentalists said Tuesday that ignoring the reality of the Earth's changing climate is shortsighted.
"What this order will do is ensure that we will waste more taxpayer money because federal agencies will no longer have to consider long-term flood risks to federally funded infrastructure projects," said Jessica Grannis, who manages the adaptation program at the Georgetown Climate Center.
The president, speaking at a news conference at Trump Tower in New York, said it can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and 17 years to approve an ordinary highway project because of burdensome regulations. Trump signed another executive order on streamlining environmental and public reviews of infrastructure projects his first week in office.
"We used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world. And today we're like a third-world country," Trump said, using a term referring to the economically developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said that regulations, not a lack of funding, are a primary holdup faced by transportation infrastructure projects. But a Treasury Department report released earlier this year found that "a lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering completion" of major transportation and water infrastructure projects."
Democrats have said the administration would be better off implementing streamlining provisions already in law than attempting new streamlining efforts. Congress passed transportation funding laws in 2012 and 2015 with dozens of streamlining provisions.
A report by the Transportation Department's inspector general this spring found that although the department had completed work necessary to implement a majority of the 42 streamlining provisions in the 2012 law, they had still not been implemented because regulators had to make changes to comply with the requirements of the 2015 law.
Shannon Eggleston, the American Association of State, Highway and Transportation Officials' program director for environment, said there is still room to make adjustments to the processes for complying with laws protecting endangered species and air quality that won't hurt the environment.