Sen. Bill Nelson: Trump off to 'rocky' start; should invest in infrastructure
On Day 5, Donald Trump’s presidency is off to a “rocky” start, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday.
It started Saturday, Nelson said, when President Trump went in front of a memorial wall at CIA headquarters honoring agency employees who have died in the line of duty and complained about news coverage regarding the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
“You don’t stand there and talk about anything but how we honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the country,” Nelson said during a news conference at his office in downtown Tampa. “I think that’s a pretty good example of getting off to a rocky start.”
Add that to Saturday’s news conference at which Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said, falsely, "That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period," and, Nelson said, “it was an interesting day.”
Nelson contrasted the pageantry of the inauguration with “a crowd in the same location on the mall” for the women’s march on Saturday “that was at least two times as big as the crowd for the inaugural.” In light of the size and scope of women’s marches across the country, he said, “there is a movement going on out there. This is just all the more democracy at work.”
On other topics, Nelson said:
• He has not made up his mind on whether to vote to confirm former Goldman Sachs partner Steve Mnuchin as Trump’s treasury secretary.
“There are a number of things that trouble me about him,” Nelson said. “He’s got some tax issues. But the main thing is it’s kind of an attitude that, ‘I know better than you,’ and for a treasury secretary, who has the tremendous responsibility of keeping our economy on an even keel, that concerns me.”
Nelson said he already has voted for Elaine Chao for transportation secretary and Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary. He voted against Mike Pompeo to run the CIA and has said he plans to vote against Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Rex Tillerson as secretary of state "because of Vladimir Putin." “The others I’m evaluating,” he said.
• Said Congress and the Trump administration should move forward with a $1 trillion infrastructure improvement program to repair or replace aging roads, bridges and utility systems and expand things like broadband access.
Florida has more than 200 bridges that the U.S. Department of Transportation has labeled structurally deficient, including 12 in the Tampa Bay area, he said. Those include the 22nd Street bridge in Tampa, which crosses CSX railroad tracks near Ikea and the Ninth Street bridge over Booker Creek in St. Petersburg.
“Candidate Trump said he wanted a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill,” Nelson said. “It needs repairing and it needs fixing.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who appeared with Nelson, said infrastructure investment is key to economic growth.
“If ever there was an opportunity for us to potentially find common ground with the new president, it would be over infrastructure,” said Buckhorn, a two-term Democrat. “For us infrastructure is the lifeblood of what we do. We can't grow this country’s economy, I can’t grow this city’s economy without adequate roads, bridges, water and sewer systems.”
• Said he had sent Trump a letter opposing a planned freeze on non-military federal hiring, which he said would deprive agencies of needed professionals in areas of need like air traffic control, could adversely affect veterans who make up 31 percent of federal hires and could hurt the Department of Veterans Affairs' efforts to clear scheduling backlogs so that veterans can get medical appointments.
“The consequence of the hiring freeze is really going to be rather terrifying,” Nelson said.
• Said he believes there is very little voter fraud in the U.S., but voter suppression and attempted voter suppression has taken place "not only in Florida, but across the country."
• Criticized Trump's executive order to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and an expected order to control immigration more tightly.
On building the wall, he said, "there a mulitiplicity of things that can be done to protect our borders. This, unfortunately, has gotten into a political issue, and one particular demographic group is being singled out and, I think, unfairly."
On blocking immigration "from certain countries," he asked, "does that mean that in some of these cases that are just tear-your-heart out, say from a Syrian refugee child, that automatically, we're not even going to consider to bring them into the country? I don't think that's the heart and the compassion of America."