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Trump Talks Infrastructure In Ohio As Russia Probe Fires Up Washington

Ryland Barton

While the conversation on Capitol Hill Wednesday focused around the testimony of several intelligence officials and President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, Trump himself was out of town. The commander in chief was 500 miles away in Cincinnati, pushing for an infrastructure initiative.

Overall, the hundreds of people who gathered on the banks of the Ohio River were Trump supporters, and couldn’t have cared less about what was going on in Washington.

Karen Rhein is a former cafeteria worker from Erlanger, Kentucky. She attended the Trump event with her sister and 12-year-old granddaughter, who wore a T-shirt that read “get on the Trump train” on the front and “build the wall” on the back.

“I said, ‘oh please, please sign her shirt’ — and he did,” Rhein said. “He looked at it, and he looked at it and he signed it.”

Rhein loves Trump. She supported him through the primary, keeps up with him on TV, and she’s happy with the job he’s done as president so far.

“I think that he’s going to do everything that he says he’s going to do,” she said. “He’s already done a lot of it. And it was just great to be able to see him. Come here and see him in person.”

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., four national security officials testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Director of national intelligence Dan Coats refused to comment on whether Trump asked him to help end the inquiry into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

And Washington got a taste of Thursday’s main event, when excerpts from former FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony were published by several news outlets. The excerpts suggest Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn, which may count as an obstruction of justice.

But along the banks of the Ohio River, there was no mention of Russia, the FBI, investigations or Mike Flynn.

Cincinnati resident Mark Depeel was star-struck.

“I voted for Trump, I’m a big fan of what he’s been saying and doing,” said Depeel. “It’s good to see the liberals going nuts like they are and making no sense. I’m having a blast with it.”

In Trump-land, this week is “infrastructure week.” The president is touting a plan to get the federal government, states and private businesses to invest $1 trillion to improve the nation’s highways, railroads, bridges and waterways.

Depeel sells boats for a living. He said he’s excited for Trump’s plan to fix aging dams along inland waterways like the Ohio.

“I work in the marine industry, so I’m very interested in what happens with the waterways and the bridges,” he said. “Very interested in making sure that our waters are taken care of, but they’re still navigable. It’s always been an issue for the rivers around here. I’m glad someone’s actually paying attention to it.”

And Trump’s speech spoke to Depeel’s concerns.

“We’re going to create brand-new projects that excite and inspire,” said Trump. “Because that is what a great country does, that is what a great country has to do. America wants to build.”

Fixing the country’s infrastructure might be the most bipartisan of Trump’s initiatives so far in his presidency — it was a major part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year too.

But on Wednesday, Trump accused Democrats of being obstructionists.

“People don’t want to see what’s going on. They want to see us all come together but I just don’t see them coming together. They’re obstructionists,” said Trump. “I’m calling on all Democrats and Republicans to join together, if that’s possible, in the great rebuilding of America.”

Trump hasn’t yet come out with a full proposal for his transportation initiative

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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