The Republican mayor of Fort Worth, who avoided Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, is now an important ally as the president tries to make inroads with a coalition dominated by Democrats — big city mayors.
Betsy Price, along with two dozen elected officials from other states, had a prime seat at the unveiling of Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.
That proposal faces serious opposition from lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill. It could help North Texas finish the expansion of I-35 and fund a planned high-speed railway between Dallas and Fort Worth, though the plan does not deal with specific projects.
In an interview with Star-Telegram after the White House meeting, Price said her relationship with the president hasn’t changed since the 2016 election, when she skipped out on a major Trump rally and GOP donor event in her city.
But, as the mayor of one of the largest conservative-run cities in the country, Price said her office is enjoying unusual access to a White House that’s in the market for conservative allies to work on a top campaign promise.
“He knows where we stand and he’s looking for leadership that’s looking to partner with them and be fairly conservative,” Price said of her second visit to the White House in as many months.
Last month Price visited the White House with members of the United States Conference of Mayors, and got a shout-out from the president. He called her by her first name and added that she’s a “fantastic friend.”
Price also split with many of her big city mayor counterparts — virtually all of whom are Democrats — in siding with Trump’s call for a military parade last week.
Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, panned the proposal as an “authoritarian-inspired show-of-force.” Price volunteered Fort Worth to play host.
Trump’s 2016 election had fueled a surge of Democratic engagement in Fort Worth. In August, city marshal’s removed protesters from council chambers following a vote not to join a lawsuit challenging a new state law cracking down on sanctuary cities.
Price’s critics say they want her to maintain independence from Trump, particularly on issues related to race and immigration.
“We absolutely know that there’s a need for infrastructure in the DFW area,” said Alexander Montalvo, a leader in Indivisible FWTX, a Democratic activist group. “The concern is that we still want our representatives and our mayor to be able to speak out against things that are not right.”
“If making a deal for infrastructure means we go silent on the social concerns, of the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] raids… that’s a big concern,” said Montalvo.
Trump plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program next month, leaving roughly 7,700 Tarrant County recipients vulnerable to deportation.
Price said she’s “optimistic” Congress will craft a deal to protect “critical members of our community” before that, but didn’t talk to Trump about it at the meeting.
Helen Ferre, White House director of media affairs, said Monday that Trump “has a warm relationship with” Price and “values [her] experience in tackling many challenges, including infrastructure and workforce needs.”
Fort Worth’s mayor and council is nonpartisan. Price, though, is active in Republican circles. She was re-elected to a fourth mayoral term in May with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Of the 20 largest cities in the country, three have Republican mayors: Fort Worth, San Diego and Jacksonville, Fla.
Price, one of seven mayors and the only Texan in Monday’s meeting. Mayors Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., George Flaggs Jr., of Vicksburg, Miss., Carolyn Goodman of Las Vegas, Brad Hart of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jeff Longwell of Wichita, Kan., and Vi Lyles of Charlotte also attended.
Price said she plans to take Trump’s message to a gathering in Houston next month. “I think when people will stop and really listen to what he’s saying and what he’s bringing to the table, particularly for fast-growth cities like Fort Worth, then they begin to warm up to the idea a little bit,” she said.
Of particular interest to her big-city counterparts, Price said the White House promised in Monday’s meeting that some infrastructure funds could be allocated directly to cities instead of being given to states to disburse.
On Capitol Hill, infrastructure draws unusual political divisions and alliances.
Trump campaigned on a massive infrastructure plan that he promised would upgrade public works and create thousands of jobs. Conservatives in his party balk at that idea because of the cost.
Trump has said he hopes to court support from enough Democrats to get bill through the Senate anyway. Republicans hold 51 seats, and Democrats control 49.
Many Democrats quickly panned Trump’s proposal Monday, saying it didn’t go far enough. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it a “plan to appease [Trump’s] political allies, not to rebuild the country.” Veasey said the proposal “leaves states, cities, and local governments to foot the bill and puts additional pressure on their budgets that are already stretched too thin.”
Price said that among mayors, the politics is different.
“Infrastructure is critical to quality of life for all our citizens… as mayors, your citizens just expect you to deliver services,” said Price.
“There are 7.2 million people in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] metroplex who are all very interested in what we’re going to do on infrastructure,” Price added. “If they’re spending 45 minutes to an hour in the car every day and they could get that cut back to 20 or 30 minutes, they would be ecstatically happy.”
And thanks to Tarrant County’s strong vote for Trump in 2016, she said the city is getting plenty of attention from the White House on the issue.
“We know his staff, his government affairs directors, we know them well and have worked closely with them,” said Price. “That’s probably one of the reasons we keep getting asked back.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Sandra Baker contributed to this report.