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Trump Tries To Move Attention From Russia To Infrastructure


The White House would rather be talking about infrastructure this week. That is the intended focus of a presidential appearance in Cincinnati today. Republican Representative Jeff Denham of California is on the House Infrastructure Committee, and he's in our studios - got his coffee.

Good morning. Thanks for coming by.

JEFF DENHAM: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Glad you're here. How, though, is the president doing at keeping the focus on his agenda just now?

DENHAM: It's a challenge. And I would say it is good to have these discussions this week, to have a hearing so we can actually get to the facts.

So there's been a lot of questions about private conversations and an ongoing FBI that - investigation that goes back into the previous administration. We've got to get beyond this, get to the facts - what happened during the election; was there any discussions with Russian intelligence? - and then start focusing on fixing the country. And we've got to get on to tax reform and infrastructure reform and rebuilding this country and putting people back to work.

INSKEEP: It doesn't...

DENHAM: You can't do that without getting rid of this noise.

INSKEEP: It doesn't sound like you are agreeing with the president when he's called this whole thing a witch hunt. You actually want something to be investigated here.

DENHAM: I want the facts on the table. And certainly, there were a lot of questions under the previous administration. There were questions about how Comey rolled out a lot of the information during the campaign. And then...

INSKEEP: About Hillary Clinton and so forth.

DENHAM: Yes - and then questions about conversations during the campaign and whether there was - we've never seen anything like this before. So I think it's really important that we put some attention on it this week, that we actually get facts out on the table and see where the investigation is going so that we can actually talk about things that are moving forward as government.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm thinking about the fact that the White House wanted this to be infrastructure week. I think they even labeled it infrastructure week.

The president, so far this week, set aside Russia. The president has attacked the mayor of London. He's attacked his own Justice Department. He's re-advocated his travel ban. He's insisted it is a travel ban, even though the White House said it wasn't. He claimed credit for a dispute between U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf. This has not been the most on-message week for the president of the United States.

DENHAM: No, and I would probably wager that the next three and a half years are going to be like that as well.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DENHAM: I imagine there's going to be a lot of different conversations going on at the same time. But ultimately, we've got a job to do. And regardless of what's happening around the globe, we've still got to build things and work on what people elected us to do.

INSKEEP: OK, building things - has the president already missed his chance when it comes to infrastructure? - because at the very beginning, Democrats - some Democrats, anyway - were saying, we're willing to work with this guy on infrastructure. We want infrastructure, too. We might disagree on the financing, but there's something that can be done. And instead of leading with that, the president and Republicans in Congress led with health care and other things that are deeply, deeply partisan.

DENHAM: Yeah, there were some things that we had to sequence. Just the way that our budget is set up and the funding scenarios go, we had to set a baseline, and that - part of that was doing the health care bill first. We've got to get tax reform so that we actually have money to do the overall infrastructure program.

But, no, I expect it to be very, very bipartisan. I would say the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is the most bipartisan committee of any. And we've had a proven track record. We've got to continue to do this to start building big things. It'll start with this FAA bill in transforming the air traffic control system...

INSKEEP: Privatizing air traffic control - that's something you would support?

DENHAM: Absolutely, yeah, we've seen it in Germany, France, the U.K., Canada. It's amazing to see that we're still using 1960s technology - technology older than I am - and these other countries are, not only saving gas, lowering tickets, but also creating security at the same time.

INSKEEP: Can you still be bipartisan, or is it too late? Has the chance been missed?

DENHAM: No, I think it's a prime opportunity to be bipartisan, and infrastructure is the way to do it.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks for coming by this morning really appreciate it.

DENHAM: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Jeff Denham, Republican representative from California, the 10th District in the Central Valley.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID HELPING'S, "GRAND COLLISION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Corrected: June 6, 2017 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Rep. Jeff Denham's last name as Dunham.