The top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently became a beneficiary of President Trump's lurch toward bipartisanship.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, of Oregon, met with D.J. Gribbin, Trump's special assistant for infrastructure policy, sharing beers on the patio outside the lawmaker's office to talk about roads and bridges for an hour.
DeFazio says the Sept. 25 meeting was the first meaningful conversation he has had with the White House since March.
He hopes the outreach signals that Trump is ready to consider the views of Democrats who will be crucial to fulfilling one of the president's core campaign promises, achieving a major infrastructure investment package.
"I am trying to help the president here, and it sounds like he is coming along," DeFazio told the Washington Examiner.
Trump's promise during the presidential campaign to spend $1 trillion on improving the nation's roads, bridges, and airports has long been the agenda item with the most potential to bridge Democrats and Republicans.
In embarking on its agenda, the Trump administration decided to delay infrastructure until it pursued the more Republican-friendly issues of Obamacare repeal and tax reform.
As that strategy has faltered, Democrats, and some moderate Republicans, say they see signs that the president, frustrated with the Senate's inability to pass an Obamacare replacement bill and with tax reform in its infancy, may be more willing to work across the aisle, as he did when he achieved a budget and debt ceiling deal with Democratic leaders last month.
Senators and House members of both parties who want to work with Trump on an infrastructure package say there has been more engagement on the issue in recent weeks, and they expressed increasing confidence they could reach a deal.
"I am really happy to see the president the past month or so is starting to reach out to Democrats and talk to us about a number of issues, including infrastructure," said Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., a member of the Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Lipinski is the co-policy chairman of the center-left Blue Dog Coalition, whose members were among the moderate lawmakers who met with Trump at the White House last month to discuss tax reform and infrastructure.
"I am more hopeful in a bipartisan infrastructure plan than I have been since the beginning of the year," Lipinski told the Washington Examiner. "I am cautiously optimistic we get a deal done this year."
Indeed, moderate Republicans and Democrats are reveling in what they view as a turning point in regards to how Congress legislates and works with the White House.
"I believe Trump's new approach is here to stay, absolutely, and that can only benefit infrastructure," said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.
"You try one path that hasn't produced results with healthcare falling apart and now he is demonstrating he wants to govern," Reed told the Washington Examiner. "This is naturally progressing to involve more Problem Solving Caucus-type members in the House and Senate who are willing partners and good faith negotiators."
Reed and Gottheimer attended the Sept. 13 meeting at the White House with moderate lawmakers, where the duo said they pitched Trump their idea to marry tax reform with infrastructure.
The Trump administration is not following that concept for now, but Reed and Gottheimer say repatriating and taxing cash stashed overseas could help fund infrastructure spending.
"We had a whole discussion with the president about repatriation," Gottheimer told the Washington Examiner. "Our caucus believes taxes and infrastructure can ride together. [Trump] liked the idea, and said if they don't ride together, infrastructure would come 12 seconds after tax reform."
Despite that optimism, the Trump administration has not offered many details on what a package should entail.
In the spring, the White House released a six-page outline, in which it said it wants to spend just $200 billion in federal money to reach the $1 trillion goal, with the remainder coming from states, cities, and local governments.
The White House proposed an incentive program in which the federal government would offer money to state and local governments that enter agreements with private companies.
A Trump administration official said the White House has been meeting with lawmakers, mayors, and governors about how to stimulate infrastructure spending. The official said the administration remains on track to produce specific outlines of a plan later in the fall.
"As we stated early in the administration, we wanted to get done healthcare, tax reform, and then infrastructure, and do those things in that order," the official said. "Obviously, it's taken longer than the president initially hoped to reach consensus on those first two things."
"The beauty of an infrastructure package is we think this is something everyone will want to do," the official added. "There is such broad bipartisan support that once we put it together, it will be able to move under its own power."
Yet, Trump seemed to back off a central pillar of his administration's plan in recent a meeting with members of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Lawmakers who participated in the Sept. 26 meeting, and others who spoke with those in attendance, said Trump said he doesn't favor using public-private partnerships to finance infrastructure projects. The Wall Street Journal first reported the details of the meeting.
A public-private partnership acts as it sounds, with private investors helping fund construction and repair of roads, bridges, and airports in exchange for a share of future revenue.
Lawmakers say Trump cited the experience of Vice President Mike Pence, who was governor of Indiana when a private group helped the state operate a major toll road and the developers went bankrupt.
Democrats interpreted Trump's comments to mean he is willing to embrace their approach of relying more on direct federal spending.
"I have heard from three different members in that meeting that [Trump] was quite assertive opposing P3s [public-private partnerships]," DeFazio said. "I was actually very encouraged to hear that. I guess he is a businessman and can see through that concept as a false promise. Hopefully he sees infrastructure as capital expenditures as opposed to operating costs and is willing to get innovative on how we are going to finance it."
The decision on how to fund infrastructure investment promises to be the biggest challenge facing lawmakers because conservatives have long opposed significant funding from the federal government.
Some conservatives expressed concern that the Trump administration could move to embrace Democratic ideas and limit the use of public-private partnerships.
"Public-private partnerships are a way to get things done at less cost to the government," said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "It's hard to be against that if you are a fiscal conservative."
But Farenthold said conservatives "are willing" to spend on infrastructure, pointing out that the last increase of the gasoline tax came under President Ronald Reagan in 1982.
"The underlying theme here is infrastructure authorization is going to be one of easier things we do because it's traditionally bipartisan," Farenthold said. "I am confident we will see an infrastructure package, but there may be a struggle with the pay-fors."
Others in Congress called on the administration to overcome hurdles by working with members of both parties on drafting legislation and funneling ideas through the relevant committees, a tact the GOP did not take in several efforts to replace Obamacare.
"The president is going to make an effort to work with the Democrats, we all know that, and I am glad he is," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which he formerly ran. "When you stop and think about the issues we've addressed with the EPW committee, we did that by getting real close to our Democrats," Inhofe told the Washington Examiner. "We had the most liberal Democrats and most conservative Republicans working very closely together. So I feel good about that. Infrastructure is something we will get done."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., also expressed optimism about completing a bipartisan infrastructure deal, mentioning as an example his partnership with Inhofe on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The duo helped lead the passage of a $300 billion bipartisan highway funding bill in 2015 known as the FAST Act, which was signed into law by former President Barack Obama.
"I don't want to mislead you and say there has been the type of outreach we need from the Trump administration," Cardin told the Washington Examiner. "It's more than just reaching out to Democrats. It's reaching out through the richness of membership of Congress and its committees. I trust the process. The president is the vision to help get infrastructure done, and we want him to reach out to us in doing that."