President Donald Trump appears ready to make some deals — except when he’s threatening Democrats with “warlike” tactics.
Despite losing the House and several governorships in states that could be key for Trump’s 2020 re-election prospects, the president used a press conference last week to send widely divergent messages to lawmakers about just how much he wants to get done in the lame-duck remainder of the 115th Congress and after the 116th is seated in early January.
On one hand, he declared “very close to complete victory” in the midterms and talked about the advantages of split control in Congress.
“When you look at it from the standpoint of negotiation, when you look at it from the standpoint of deal-making — because it’s all about deal-making — again, if we had the majority, and we had one or two or three votes to play with [in the Senate], we would … have been at a standstill,” Trump said.
“I really believe that we have a chance to get along very well with the Democrats. And if that’s the case, we can do a tremendous amount of legislation and get it approved by both parties,” he added.
Trump even seemed pleased about losing control of the House, predicting “much less gridlock” than if the midterms had turned out “any other way.”
Watch: The Border Wall Funding Fight Could Lead to Another CR, or Partial Federal Shutdown
But then the president spoke of the “warlike posture” he would adopt if House Democrats begin aggressively investigating his administration.
The first “deal-making versus warlike postures” test will come over the next few weeks as Trump and lawmakers attempt to strike a deal over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and Department of Homeland Security funding for the remainder of this fiscal year. That funding dispute is staring at a Dec. 7 deadline that could shutter part of the federal government just before the holidays.
Trump laid down a key — and unlikely — marker last week, saying: “We need the money to build the wall, the whole wall, not pieces of it all over.” He already secured $1.6 billion for the project last year, with the Senate proposing the same amount for fiscal 2019 and the House $5 billion. Sensing House Democrats will be unwilling to grant him even incremental bites for the border barrier once they take control, the president is going for the whole amount, likely around $20 billion more.
Senate Democrats still control 49 seats, leaving Trump and Republicans well short of the 60 needed to clear anything the GOP-controlled House might be able to pass with a border wall figure more in line with the president’s big demand. That is expected to buy time for Democrats until they can “fight” the president over his wall plans, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week.
“This president uses [immigration as a means of] fear-mongering,” said the California Democrat, the likely speaker come January. “I just don’t think that’s right.
“But in order to get in a position to fight it, we had to win on the issues that strike right to the financial security of America’s working families and those are our values,” she said.
Before she and Trump begin trading barbs through reporters and Twitter, Pelosi last month called the wall “a manhood issue for the president.”
Trump sees the wall as a win he needs to again turn out his conservative base in big numbers as he looks toward securing a second term. Personal jabs from Democrats and a desire to placate his core supporters will only further complicate already complex negotiations.
Poking the bear
To add to that, Democrats might have already provoked Trump’s promised warlike posture with more than a month to go before the new Congress convenes.
Even before the party can staff up to begin its list of investigations, incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler made clear Sunday his panel will summon — or “if necessary, subpoena” — acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to testify. The New York Democrat deemed the former acting U.S. attorney in the George W. Bush administration a “political lackey.”
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation “is of utmost importance in making sure that we adhere to the rule of law and that the administration is held accountable,” Nadler told CNN.
“The questions we will ask [Whitaker] will be about his expressed hostility to the [Mueller] investigation, and how he can possibly supervise it when he’s … come out and said that the investigation is invalid,” Nadler said.
Stan Collender, a former staffer for the House and Senate Budget committees, predicts a “brutal two years ahead.”
He pins that on several factors. For one, he said Trump could be “more interested in confrontation than compromise” once he’s in full re-election mode. And the “House and Senate will have such different spending and [tax] agendas that finding a compromise that can pass both chambers will be a long shot at best,” Collender said.