"Infrastructure Week" didn’t draw the public’s attention away from James Comey. Maybe reviving "The Apprentice" will.
Next week the White House will embark on a three-day blitz to sell what President Donald Trump’s advisers say is a key part of his agenda to revive the middle class: boosting apprenticeship programs for blue-collar workers.
The centerpiece will be a speech Trump will deliver at the Labor Department Wednesday to announce yet-undisclosed executive actions to promote job training. On Tuesday, Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, will travel to Waukesha, Wis., for a roundtable on apprenticeships with Scott Walker, the state’s governor and one of Trump’s rivals in last year’s GOP primary.
The White House, of course, is still struggling to rise above the news generated by investigations of the Trump campaign’s possible connection to Russian attempts to disrupt the 2016 election. Former FBI Director Comey, whose Thursday congressional testimony intensified discussion of whether Trump tried to obstruct the Justice Department’s Russia probe, hijacked the news last week. The Trump White House is working hard to seize it back.
To that end, the White House will deploy Ivanka, one of the few popular figures in the Trump White House, to be a public face for Trump’s apprenticeship pitch. She’s scheduled to make no fewer than three public appearances on the issue next week, including a panel with eight governors on Thursday.
“In recent decades, there has been great focus on the importance of four year education, higher education, and the reality is that is not the right path for everyone,” Ivanka Trump told reporters Friday.
But in touting apprenticeships, a rare policy tool that enjoys bipartisan support, Trump will have to maneuver around the awkward fact that his proposed budget would cut Labor Department funding for training and employment services by 36 percent, including deep reductions in training for adults and dislocated workers.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta last week told a panel that Trump’s budget makes “hard but responsible choices,” and prioritizes programs based on effectiveness. “Our intent is to expand the apprenticeship program broadly and to scale it up,” Acosta told reporters Friday. The Trump budget proposes $90 million for apprenticeship grants, an increase of roughly one percent over current funding.
“The problem is not money,” a senior administration official insisted. "The problem is [training programs] haven’t been set up in an effective and accountable way, and that’s what we’ll be addressing through this initiative. The president put forth a very fiscally responsible and prudent budget."
It’s much the same at the Education Department, where Trump’s budget proposes a 15 percent cut in grants that help states pay for career and technical education. Along with $166 million in cuts, the Trump budget proposes a $20 million increase to pay for "the development, enhancement, implementation, or expansion of innovative [Career and Technical Education] programs" in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly known as STEM — programs.
“There is definitely a huge juxtaposition between the administration’s statements on supporting workforce and skill development and what’s included in their budget,” said Alisha Hyslop, director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education.
Meanwhile, this coming week may not be much quieter than last on the Russia front. On Friday, leaders of the House Intelligence Committee asked the White House to hand over any tapes it may possess of President Trump’s conversations with Comey, after Trump declined to confirm or deny at a press conference whether such tapes exist.
“You’re gonna be very disappointed when you hear the answer,” Trump responded to a reporter who asked if the tapes exist. “Don’t worry.”