House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argue during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Why Trump won’t even consider the gift Democrats have offered him

Updated

As part of his bizarre breakdown at the White House yesterday, Donald Trump tried to justify his refusal to work with Congress until lawmakers stop investigating his many scandals. As the president sees it, policymakers can care about oversight or governing, but they can’t do both.

“So I’ve said from the beginning – right from the beginning – that you probably can’t go down two tracks. You can go down the investigation track, and you can go down the investment track or the track of let’s get things done for the American people.”

The Republican soon after reiterated the point on Twitter, writing, “You can’t investigate and legislate simultaneously - it just doesn’t work that way. You can’t go down two tracks at the same time.”

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, we already know that the claim is false. As Rachel explained in detail on last night’s show, at the height of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon and congressional Democrats continued to work on all kinds of legislative priorities. Decades later, during Bill Clinton’s impeachment ordeal, the Democratic president never stopped working with congressional Republicans.

Indeed, right now, House Democrats continue to pass many of their legislative priorities, even as multiple investigations into White House scandals unfold.

But the problem isn’t just that Trump is wrong; it’s also the fact that the president is rejecting the gift Dems are offering him.

Indeed, it’s easy to overlook just how extraordinary the underlying political dynamic is. Democratic leaders have effectively told Trump. “We’re prepared to work with you on major priorities despite your scandals and stonewalling. With a little cooperation, there can be bipartisan deals, on popular issues, which you can then run on in 2020.”

To which the president has effectively responded, “No. Stop doing oversight or governing in D.C. will end for the next year and a half.”

It’s worth taking a moment to consider why he’d rather leave the gift on the table than pick it up.

It’s possible, for example, that Trump simply doesn’t recognize the value of this opportunity. Whatever the president’s skills, strategic thinking isn’t exactly in his wheelhouse.

It’s also possible that, despite all of his bluster, he realizes that he has no idea how to negotiate favorable legislative terms with experienced and capable Democratic lawmakers. On a related note, the president may also believe that any agreements he reached with Dems on any issue would probably be rejected by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who appears to have even less interest in cooperative governing than Trump.

But I think the most likely explanation is also the most unsettling one: perhaps Trump has made a risk assessment and arrived at a difficult realization. Maybe he believes the benefits of working with Congress are outweighed by the dangers posed by congressional investigations into his scandals.

And if this is the reason, it would tell us quite a bit about the seriousness of the president’s scandals.

Whatever the explanation, Trump has left himself in a position that’s tough to defend: he believes it’s important to work with lawmakers on a range of important issues, and they’re eager to get things done, but he’s refusing to work with Congress, even on  his own priorities.

Good luck with that, Mr. President.