Trump Woos Unions That Backed Clinton With Infrastructure, Trade Policy

'You tell Congress that America's building trades and its president are very much united'

President Donald Trump at the 2017 NABTU National Legislative Conference / Getty Images

President Donald Trump asked hard-hat unions that opposed him in the general election to boost support for his $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which he dubbed "the great rebuilding of our country" on Tuesday.

Trump addressed members of North America's Building Trade Unions (NABTU), an AFL-CIO affiliate, to highlight the benefits of his economic and spending agenda, touting his regulatory rollbacks and planned infrastructure spending.

"You're the backbone of America. With the talent in this room, we can build any city at any time, and we can build it better than anyone," he said. "Together we are going to rebuild our nation."

He received a smattering of applause during his introductions, but later won cheers by pointing to his trade policies, reduction of EPA coal regulations, and support for oil and gas pipelines that had been delayed by the Obama administration.

Trump called free trade agreements a "disaster," singling out the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a 13-country free trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration—as one of the "great sellouts of American workers."

Trump eliminated the TPP, which was universally opposed by trade unions, on his first day in office while surrounded by several NABTU officials. Sean McGarvey, the union's president, later called that meeting "by far the best meeting I've had in Washington."

"We enriched foreign countries at the expense of our own country, the great United States of America. But those days are over," Trump said.

The president pledged to shift the country's economic agenda away from Wall Street and toward union members, repeating the populist rhetoric that helped him win critical blue-collar votes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. He pledged that construction workers would begin "sharing the wealth."

"Washington and Wall Street have done very, very well for themselves. Now it's your turn and you're going to be also sharing the wealth," he said. "We're fighting for workers of all backgrounds and from all walks of life … if [regulators] continue to punish America's builders than we will not be that nation any longer."

Trump said he plans to eliminate regulations to speed up highway construction projects and other infrastructure projects. He said lengthy permitting issues delay projects, contrasting that with the 13 months it took to build the Empire State Building during the Great Depression.

Trump plans to use the $1 trillion infrastructure deal, which will be funded by a combination of private and public investment, to unite his White House with one of the Democratic Party's most reliable constituencies.

"You tell Congress that America's building trades and its president are very much united. Together we are ready to break new ground," Trump said.

Some members were not receptive to Trump's message. Several workers turned their backs to Trump at the start of his speech, sporting Bernie Sanders stickers and waving #Resistance signs.

Trump won 43 percent of union households, according to election exit polls. He lost union households to Hillary Clinton by just eight points—the closest GOP margin since Ronald Reagan's 49-state landslide in 1984.