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Pugh outlines federal priorities in Trump era

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh told the state's congressional delegation on Thursday that the city is looking to the federal government for help on housing, infrastructure and education funding -- even as the Trump administration is seeking steep reductions in at least two out of three of those areas.

In a meeting on Capitol Hill, Pugh told the lawmakers that the city put housing "on the top of the list" of priorities, and said she remained optimistic that Washington would continue to make investments in education, transportation and infrastructure. President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to revitalize struggling cities like Baltimore.

"We recognize that there are neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades," Pugh said. "To not invest [would make] the cost...even higher."

But Pugh's visit comes as the Trump administration is pursuing deep cuts to many of the programs viewed as important for cities. The White House has proposed a 13.2 percent cut for the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the fiscal year that begins in October, including a zeroing-out of grant programs that direct millions in federal spending to Baltimore annually.

The administration proposed a similar, 13 percent cut for the Department of Education.

The Democratic lawmakers who joined Pugh on Capitol Hill said they were confident those cuts would not gain traction in Congress. The first test of that will come in the next several weeks, as Congress turns to funding legislation for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Lawmakers have until April 28 to pass a bill or risk a government shutdown.

"Not one piece of appropriations legislation has passed the House of Representatives since 2011 without significant Democratic support," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland lawmaker and No. 2 House Democrat. "To garner that support and keep the government moving and be responsible it will be necessary that we have a bipartisan approach."

That may be especially true the more Trump alienates conservative Republicans in the Freedom Caucus. Angry that the group of 30-plus lawmakers in the caucus held up his health care legislation last week, the president took to Twitter on Thursday to say "we must fight them" and called out specific lawmakers for not getting "on board."

If Trump loses support from members of his own party, he will have to seek support from centrist Democrats to move an agenda on Congress. 

Pugh has proven to be something of an optimist about the Trump administration at a time when other big city mayors have been more critical. She appeared during Trump's visit to Baltimore in December to deliver a letter requesting infrastructure funding. She attended his inauguration, along with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, when other Democrats declined. Her administration has been reluctant to weigh in on political controversies like the immigration debate over so-called "sanctuary" cities.

Trump has vowed to rebuild the nation's infrastructure but has not yet presented his plan for how to do so. Local leaders such as Pugh are hopeful that plan will ultimately include funding for city projects. 

The city budget that Pugh unveiled this week assumes a 6 percent increase in federal funding.

"We came here to find common ground," Pugh said Thursday. "We're going to be working where we can to make sure that Baltimore gets what it needs."

Pugh and members of the delegation said they are also monitoring the agreement reached by the Baltimore Police Department and the U.S. Justice Department earlier this year. The consent decree followed a report from the Obama administration's Justice Department that found widespread civil rights abuses in Baltimore.

The new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has repeatedly expressed skepticism about initiating such agreements, but has been more vague about how he will address those already in place.

"We're going to make sure that that consent order moves forward," said Sen. Ben Cardin. "Our delegation is focused on that."

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