In early January, in the midst of the longest government shutdown in American history, Donald Trump agreed to meet with congressional Democratic leaders. It didn’t last long: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the president he wouldn’t receive congressional support for a giant border wall, which led him to slam the table and storm out of the room.
This morning, Trump agreed to meet with those same Democratic leaders to discuss infrastructure. The meeting was similarly brief.
Trump said he had intended to sit down with Democratic leaders, including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, about infrastructure, but cut the planned White House meeting short.
“I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi, ‘I want to do infrastructure, I want to do more than you want to do it,’” Trump said. “ ‘But, you know what? You can’t do it under these conditions.’”
According to multiple reports, Trump arrived late, did not shake anyone’s hand, did not sit down, and complained about Pelosi’s comments this morning about the president “engaging in cover-up.”
He then made a familiar declaration before leaving the room: Trump expects lawmakers to choose between oversight and legislating.
This is a story with a few key angles, so let’s take them one at a time.
First, Trump’s infrastructure plan was already dying due to Republican opposition. Even his White House chief of staff has said he’s against Trump’s plan. By walking away from today’s meeting, the president is obviously trying to blame Democrats for the fact that Trump couldn’t even get his own party to sign on to his goal.
Second, we already know the president’s excuse – he won’t work with lawmakers investigating his scandals – is demonstrably false. Indeed, Trump sat down with Democratic leaders three weeks ago to work on an infrastructure deal, and there were several ongoing congressional investigations underway at the time. He never said a word about derailing oversight as a precondition to legislating on this or any other issue.
Indeed, the inconsistency is far more jarring than the president is prepared to acknowledge. Trump spent months saying he wouldn’t negotiate over legislation so long as there were congressional investigations; then he changed his mind; and today he changed his mind again.
I was especially struck by the idea that policymakers can’t negotiate over the substance of policy “under these conditions.’” Why not? If Trump were serious about deal-making, why not say, “I know there are some disagreements about oversight, but let’s try to work together on some of these unrelated and important issues”?
If Trump is willing to negotiate with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un while the rogue nuclear-armed dictator fires missiles, what’s so unique about the “conditions” in D.C. that make governing talks impossible?
Finally, if the Republican is serious about wanting to see the end of the various congressional investigations, it’s within his power to expedite the process: Trump could stop stonewalling and start cooperating. The sooner the White House provides lawmakers with the answers to their questions, the sooner the investigations will end.
Unless, of course, Trump and his team have something damaging they’re eager to hide.
Postscript: For what it’s worth, telling Democrats the legislative process will end unless they end all oversight isn’t much of a threat. Mitch McConnell has already derailed the legislative process, and if every investigation of Trump’s scandals were to end today, the infrastructure plan would still have no chance of success.