Melanie Zanona THE HILL
Seven Major Players in Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Push
April 16, 2017
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  • Members of the White House, Congress and Transportation Department are all expected to have a major role in shaping President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package.

    Some may influence which transportation projects are selected for the wide-ranging proposal, while others will play a pivotal role in getting the plan over the finish line.

    Legislation is still in the process of being crafted, but it could land on Capitol Hill as soon as next month.

    Here are the seven major players to watch.

    Chao is taking the helm of the administration’s efforts on a national rebuilding program.

    She is expected to play a major part in determining the size and scope of the plan, as well as serve as a bridge between Congress and the White House.

    The secretary is deeply familiar with infrastructure issues, having been a former deputy Transportation secretary in the George H.W. Bush administration.

    Chao, a former Labor secretary who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is well liked in Congress and has personal relationships with several members, including some Democrats.

    Those relationships may come in handy as Trump seeks to win support from Democrats and skeptical Republicans for an infrastructure package.

    In recent weeks, she has signaled that the proposal could be unveiled in late May and will include a broad range of projects.

    “The proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure,” Chao said at her welcoming ceremony. “It will include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals as well.”

    Economic adviser Gary Cohn

    Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, appears to be gaining clout in the White House.

    As director of the National Economic Council, Cohn is Trump’s right-hand man in assembling the infrastructure proposal, which the president has billed as a way to boost the economy and create jobs.

    Cohn sat on an infrastructure panel during a recent town hall event at the White House that also included Chao.

    He has been soliciting CEOs for their ideas on how to construct new rails and roads in ways that improve the country’s transportation system.

    Cohn said the rebuilding plan would include transformative projects, such as modernizing air traffic control, with an emphasis on public-private partnerships.

    “Air traffic control is probably the single most exciting thing we can do,” Cohn said.

    The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman was an early Trump backer — and that support may pay off.

    Shuster’s committee will be the main House panel holding hearings on Trump’s infrastructure bill and marking up the legislation, which may be the best opportunity for lawmakers to help mold the plan.

    Shuster, who has already been to the White House several times this year, has been advocating for air traffic control reform and brought the issue to Trump even before he took office.

    Trump seems to have taken Shuster’s advice to heart. The president’s budget proposal called for separating air traffic control from the federal government.

    But Shuster has made clear that he isn’t afraid to push back when he doesn’t agree with Trump’s ideas, such as the administration’s proposal to eliminate an Essential Air Service (EAS) program in rural and remote communities.

    “There are things there I don’t agree with. … Cutting EAS funding for rural airports,” Shuster said at the time. “It’s such a vital link for rural America.”

     Gribbin, who oversaw private partnership transactions for government clients at Macquarie Capital, is advising Trump on infrastructure issues.

    He also served as chief counsel for the Federal Highway Administration and for the Department of Transportation.

    Gribbin may keep a low profile, but the policy wonk’s fingerprints are likely to be seen on the infrastructure plan.

    Speaking at a Wall Street Journal event this week, Gribbin described himself  “as the infrastructure guy” as opposed to the “legislative strategy guy.”

    And his policy expertise has already come in handy. Trump brought Gribbin up on stage at a recent town hall event and asked him to hold up a giant chart illustrating all the permits that are needed to construct a highway.

    At one point, Trump pointed the microphone at Gribbin so he could help fill in details about how many approvals are needed.

    “How many different steps is it?” Trump asked.

    “Sixteen different approvals, 29 different statutes, 5 different executive orders that all apply to this process,” Gribbin said.

    LeFrak, a longtime friend of Trump’s, is in charge of a central component of the president’s infrastructure bill: vetting projects.

    LeFrak and fellow real estate developer Steven Roth are heading up a new council that will pick and manage transportation projects that receive funding from the legislative package.

    The billionaire has a successful history of overseeing major real estate developments in New York.

    Trump has called LeFrak a “pro” and signaled that he wants to find projects that are able to start construction within 90 days.

    “One thing [Trump] said while we were in the meeting, he said, ‘Don’t bring me any projects that you want federal funding for that you can’t start and had completed the state approval processes,’ ” LeFrak told CNBC last month.

    Thune holds two positions that make him a powerful player in Trump’s infrastructure initiative: He is a member of GOP leadership and he chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

    In the wake of the House’s failure to repeal ObamaCare, some have said that Trump’s infrastructure plan should start in the Senate, which would give Thune an even greater role in the debate.

    The Senate’s No. 3 Republican has been pushing to ensure that rural concerns are addressed in the final infrastructure package.

    Critics are worried that the private-sector model pushed by Trump would neglect most rural infrastructure needs, because investors would only be attracted to large-scale projects that can recoup their costs.

    The Commerce Committee has held numerous hearings on the issue already, and Trump has signaled that some direct federal funding would be included in the rebuilding measure. 

    Bannon has been one of the biggest cheerleaders in the White House for massive infrastructure investment, which falls in line with his populist ideals and economic nationalism.

    “The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

    The former Breitbart News executive believes the country is facing its greatest opportunity to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure, with interest rates at historic lows around the world.

    There is growing speculation, however, that Bannon’s job with the administration may be in jeopardy, though some have pushed back on that notion.

    But if Bannon sticks around, he is likely to continue crusading for the proposal, even if it draws the ire of fiscal conservatives who have long been reluctant to back major federal spending on transportation.