Trump throws a Rose Garden tantrum

Now he’s ready to shut down important government matters because the House "can’t legislate and investigate"

Published May 23, 2019 5:00AM (EDT)

President Donald Trump holds up a stat sheet having to do with the Mueller Report as he speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump holds up a stat sheet having to do with the Mueller Report as he speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

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The yelling is getting louder, as if we were hard of hearing.

Under pressure of converging avenues of investigation, Donald Trump seemed to blow his top yesterday, walking out three minutes into a planned meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about what had been advertised as a follow-up to their tentative agreement to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure improvements.

It all seems to be theater.

From Trump’s point of view, Congress is pursuing hollow, false and unnecessary investigations of his administration’s operations, of the evidence behind the Mueller Report and about the nature of his personal finances and ethics. From Pelosi’s point of view, Trump is “covering up” errors and worse in his administration by refusing to acknowledge House subpoenas.

No "do-over"

Trump said, “You can’t legislate and investigate simultaneously,” pushing back on House demands for information and testimony. Of course, Congress can. “Congress can’t have a do-over,” said Trump. Of course, Congress can, in the sense of determining what of the Mueller Report can be dealt with short of a criminal charge. It is not a do-over, it is congressional oversight, as required by the Constitution. “Russian hoax,” says Trump. No, Mueller says directly that there was Russian interference. The hoax is that the White House is actually doing something to stop further Russian interference.

Pelosi’s remarks seemed to break open a dam of poor held-back vituperations for the president. He cannot, he said, participate in normal governmental negotiations with Democrats while they pursue their own investigations. Democrats, obviously, think that investigations have been thrust upon them by continuing Trump announcements of complete exoneration of collusion and obstruction of justice behaviors that the Department of Justice said did not meet requirements for criminal charges against a sitting president.

Pelosi thinks she is showing restraint in holding off on a declaration that the House will pursue impeachment proceedings—even as calls among her furious Democratic caucus increase. Trump probably moved the hands of time closer to an impeachment midnight through his public tantrum.

Facts ignored

Throughout all of this bluster, the people’s business is being held hostage. Throughout all this public eruption, the facts of the Mueller Report are being ignored.

Donald Trump seems not to understand that the meat of the Mueller Report — actions that he himself undertook before and during his White House stay — are completely serious and self-determining about what happens next.

Whether there is an impeachment call or not now seems more a choice of tactics on both sides than some new judgment about the president’s efficacy in office.

The bad news for Trump is not coming just from the House and its annoying committee chairmen.

  • Two federal judges ruled this week against Trump’s interests this week, saying that Congress can demand financial records from his accountants and his bankers.
  • The Justice Department agreed finally to provide counterintelligence investigation findings not in the Mueller Report to the House Intelligence Committee.
  • The New York State Legislature is moving swiftly now to make it possible for Congress to obtain Trump’s state income taxes, which should be a pretty good indicator of his federal filings.
  • Former White House counsel Don McGahn and others whose testimony Trump seeks to block are facing the real possibility of personal contempt charges and fines after failing to show for a House Judiciary Committee hearing to which he had been subpoenaed. That hearing, too, was halted after just a few minutes to allow competing Democratic and Republican speeches about the failure to show.
  • More and more polls are showing Trump facing reelection woes in the Rust Belt states, particularly to former Vice President Joe Biden.

It goes further. Trump is resisting all calls for information, documents or testimony from Congress, including subpoenas.

Throughout all this, a federal budget is pending. So is a necessary rise in the country’s debt ceiling. So, too, too-high drug prices. The administration wants ratification of its USMCA update of NAFTA trade policies with Mexico and Canada, an infrastructure bill, updated aid for the victims of natural disasters and hurricanes.

Battle of egos

None of that will happen because Trump and Democratic leaders are busy bruising one another.  So much for promises made, promises kept. How about ego promised, ego delivered instead.

I’ll leave it to others to determine the degree to which Trump yesterday was looking for a spark to set off his explosives. The White House was already set up for the denunciation as the meeting was just getting underway, complete with Rose Garden flyers festooned with ABC-TV graphics (they showed numbers of agents, interviews and such but left out the numbers of Trump associates were found guilty or pleaded in court), so there is little question that what occurred yesterday was a display of upset.

What has been described endlessly as a slow-rolling constitutional crisis has devolved into a toddler-like tantrum at the White House. Until now, the question had been whether the president could ride out the Mueller Report, and whether the country could better protect itself against Russian election meddling. The tantrum returns the question now to whether Donald Trump can actually serve as a fit president at all?

By Terry H. Schwadron

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