By Jules Witcover
President Trump’s abrupt walkout from a White House meeting on infrastructure legislation with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday has only heightened the controversy over a possible presidential impeachment.
This huffy exit three minutes into the meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was immediately followed by a press appearance in the Rose Garden where Trump complained about the way House Democrats have chosen to carry on the investigation initiated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
This erratic behavior, against the backdrop of the administration quashing demands for testimony and documents dealing with Trump’s 2016 campaign and his private affairs, has obliged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to accuse Trump of engaging in a “cover up” and a dodge for not addressing the nation’s dire transportation crisis.
The president’s staged temper tantrum has at least temporarily harpooned hopes of any bipartisan spirit on Capitol Hill, as long as what he has called “a takedown attempt” of his presidency goes on.
He insisted that the Democrats “get these phony investigations over with” as the price he was demanding to get on with address the critical needs of the country’s infrastructure.
Trump’s angry pushback with executive refusal to act on crumbling roads and bridges, even as Pelosi is cautioning a go-slow posture on impeachment, amounts to an invitation from him to stay the course in that quest. Killing badly needed infrastructure can be seen in itself as evidence of obstruction, if not of justice then certainly of responsible government in funding desperately required physical repair.
The speaker herself now says Trump “just took a pass, and it just makes me wonder why” he balked at making an infrastructure deal.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saw a more political motive. “I think they can’t figure out a way to do infrastructure, and they came up with a very inelegant way to get out of it,” he said.
Pelosi later opined that “the White House is just crying out for impeachment” so that “(Trump) can be exonerated by the Senate,” which remains in Republican control. The observation hinted at Pelosi’s own resistance to pursue impeachment now.
In any event, Trump’s crude stiffing of both Democratic congressional leaders after inviting them to the White House reflects more of the gathering storm around him from his war with his rival party in the legislature, as well as the broadening voice of the judicial branch against him.
A second federal judge in New York has summarily rejected his effort to block various congressional subpoenas for his bank records with his largest creditor, Deutsche Bank, which also involve his adult children and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a principal White House foreign policy adviser.
Earlier this week, another federal judge in Washington turned down Trump’s attempt to block the subpoena by the House Oversight Committee of records from his accounting firm. All of this and more are parts of the congressional Democratic search for possible Trump violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars foreign gifts or other payments to federal officials.
Finally, there is the matter of Trump’s failure to release his past and present income tax returns, which has now put Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin on the hot seat. He has pushed back against a specific Internal Revenue Service confidential memo that says such returns “shall be” provided to Congress upon request.
All these Trump financial and other entanglements, now being pursued by Democratic-controlled House committees, are the political fruits of the 2018 midterm elections that brought them majority control and subpoena power, and increasing grief to this president.
Through all this, Trump has managed to maintain a firm grip on a Republican Party mesmerized by his brash and domineering manner, feeding on all manner of political, racial, religious and ethnic division. So far, there has been little evidence that the GOP establishment, which once upon a time was capable of bipartisan debate and deal-making, has any stomach for turning on its leader.
In the context of the approaching presidential election next year, the party seems locked into a fight for or against Donald Trump, with the man himself willing and eager to make it all about himself. And he continues to give the Democrats ammunition with which to bring him down, in his endless dysfunction as displayed in his lack of governing leadership.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.