America’s two most powerful leaders will come face-to-face again Wednesday in the latest twist of a many-layered test of wills that has momentous implications for the nation’s future.
Trump offered a window into his state of mind on Tuesday evening, lashing out at Democrats for refusing to accept his mantra of “NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION!”
“The Dems were unhappy with the outcome of the $40M Mueller Report, so now they want a do-over,” Trump tweeted.
It will be a momentary truce amid an expanding, multi-front war between Pelosi’s House Democrats and the White House, which is fast bringing America to the cusp of a constitutional crisis.
While they are seeking to identify a patch of common ground in the political no man’s land, Pelosi and Trump will struggle to conceal their efforts to use ongoing budget negotiations and their showdown over scandals to achieve irreconcilable political goals.
All that Pelosi does — from her handling of impeachment demands to gambits on health care and social services — is to position her party for 2020 in the hope of making Trump a one-term president.
Trump, meanwhile, faces one of his biggest domestic tests as President as he tries to shape looming budget and debt cliffs to bolster his reelection and attempts to fulfill campaign promises like building his wall, while he tries to grab back Pelosi’s House majority and send her into retirement as he embarks on a second term.
A tense relationship
Given their ceremonial roles, Pelosi and Trump cross paths quite often — and are usually civil to each other.
The extraordinary backdrop to Wednesday’s talks, a full-blown separation of powers blowup, will complicate the already questionable chances of a rare bipartisan initiative.
Infrastructure improvement is a program both sides want — not least to lay before their different sets of voters in 2020. But it’s an issue that often founders on political divides, as goodwill is drained by unrelated disputes and no one can agree on how to pay for new roads, bridges, railroads and airports.
And in truth, infrastructure may be one of the least important current questions of vital national interest that must somehow be navigated despite the antipathy between Trump and Pelosi.
There were some hopeful signs that there may be a path to a budget deal, at least on Tuesday.
Such a deal could stave off $120 billion in automatic spending cuts and cut much of the risk of another government shutdown, after Trump came off second best in the last such showdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped a deal could be reached before the end of Tuesday. But a second round of talks broke up without word of a compromise.
“We’re working hard on it,” Schumer told reporters, saying the talks were “productive.”
Still, the acid test of any deal is whether Trump will agree to sign off on it and stick to it — even though his representatives were in the talks — following many last-minute reversals by the President.
And while an agreement could build some goodwill, the gravity of the confrontation between the House and the White House over the Russia investigation means it’s unlikely to last long.
The impeachment conundrum
Pelosi has said she believes the President is trying to goad her into opening impeachment hearings, figuring that the ensuing political meltdown will help his reelection bid.
She’s trying to keep a brake on her party for fear that a futile effort to oust Trump — due to the GOP majority in the Senate — will drown out Democratic priorities on health care and economic equality and could spark a backlash.
But she is seeking to use Congress’ power to hold Trump to account — and the court system, as witnessed by Monday’s victory — in order to keep the focus on the President’s alleged misdeeds.
“I think the President every day gives grounds for impeachment in terms of his obstruction of justice. You never say, blanketly, I’m not answering any subpoenas,” she said last week.
But a growing number of Democrats — including, for the first time, key members of House leadership — are demanding the start of an impeachment inquiry. Rank-and-file members, too, are becoming more outspoken.
Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Florida said the evidence in the Mueller report was sufficient for Democrats to take the next, fateful step.
“I believe it’s pretty clear that the President made numerous attempts to obstruct justice or obstructed justice,” Demings, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told Jake Tapper on “The Lead.”
“And so I believe, based on that information, as I did a month ago, that we have enough to begin those proceedings.”
Even some of Pelosi’s most loyal committee chairmen seem to be edging closer to an impeachment epiphany.
“I’m getting there,” House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, told CNN’s Manu Raju on Tuesday, explaining that he was getting closer to supporting an impeachment inquiry.
Another powerful Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who runs the House Intelligence Committee, appears to be heading in a similar direction.
“The case gets stronger the more they stonewall the Congress,” Schiff told CNN on Tuesday.
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Clare Foran contributed to this report.