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The Memo: White House says it’s Dems who must work with Trump

President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE will be dealing with a divided government for the first time in January, and the White House says the onus will be on Democrats to determine how much can get done in Congress.

People close to Trump cite issues such as infrastructure, criminal justice reform and drug pricing as having potential for bipartisan progress with a Democratic House.

But they also aren’t holding their breath, given the polarized state of the nation.

“There has been no big meeting of the minds,” a senior White House official told The Hill.

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“What will matter is if Democrats want to get anything done or not,” the official added. “If their posture is only they want to investigate and obstruct, then we won’t be able to get much done.”

Those views reflect a broader fear among Trump loyalists that Democrats will use their new leverage in the House, including subpoena power, to delve into the dealings of the president and his associates. 

Such moves would likely be welcomed by the Democratic base, and could drive the president to distraction given his sensitivity to criticism. That sensitivity was once again on display just before the Thanksgiving holiday, when he got into a spat with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts over the independence of the judiciary.

Democrats, for their part, argue that they cannot be held responsible for the polarization engendered by the most combative president of recent times, who called his 2016 election opponent “crooked” at every opportunity, described Democrats as a “mob” repeatedly while campaigning in the run-up to the midterms, and as recently as last Sunday belittled Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Democrats want to silence opposing views, not 'fake news' White House defends not sanctioning Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi What good are the intelligence committees? MORE (D-Calif.) as “little Adam Schitt” in a tweet.

At the same time, Democrats say that they, too, have an interest in strengthening the economy and enacting proposals that can attract some measure of bipartisan support. 

The Democratic leadership in Congress has long been more reluctant than the party’s grassroots to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump — a reluctance that even some strategists with ties to the left think is prudent.

“I think the approach should be to focus on core economic issues that are animating voters,” said Tad Devine, who was a senior advisor to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief Murkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, though he spoke to The Hill in a personal capacity.

Devine also argued that it would be a “big mistake” for Democrats to use their power for an overwhelming “onslaught against Trump.” That approach, he argued, would alienate the suburban and centrist voters who were crucial to delivering victory to Democrats in the midterms.

There is little doubt that Democrats will put Trump under the kind of scrutiny that he has never faced before, however. One question that will only be answered with time is whether that poisons the well for any other kind of progress.

The senior White House official said that would not necessarily be the case. 

“If you look at [former presidents] Obama and Bush, they dealt with investigations also, so it’s not impossible that investigations go on in the background and legislating gets done in the foreground,” the official said.

The question, according to the official, was whether the Democrats would make good faith efforts to work in other areas.

It’s a point that outside supporters of the administration also stress.

“Donald Trump is probably the most transactional president we’ve had in modern times. He wants to deal,” said Brad Blakeman, a veteran of former President George W. Bush’s White House and a supporter of the current president. “Do Democrats want to investigate or legislate?”

For a brief period in his first year, Trump appeared interested in doing deals with “Chuck and Nancy,” as he called Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA Biden stumble on China? First Black secretary of Senate sworn in Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote MORE (D-N.Y.) and then-House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (D-Calif.), who looks increasingly certain to be elected Speaker in January.

When Pelosi’s bid to recover the Speakership that she held between 2007 and 2011 looked endangered last weekend, Trump tweeted that he would “get Nancy Pelosi as many votes as she wants in order for her to be Speaker of the House. She deserves this victory, she has earned it.”

Whether this was a sincere offer or presidential trolling of the House Democrats has been hotly debated in Washington.

Some Democrats hold out hope that Trump may shift away from the hardline positions that got him elected. Others are not so sure.

“Trump may have no fixed ideology but he seems trapped by a) his perception of his base, b) the promises he made during the campaign and c) the people he’s surrounded himself with,” said veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

Shrum acknowledged that Democrats could go too far in confronting Trump but he also asserted they had a legitimate oversight role to play.

“I don’t think it would be smart to investigate for the sake of investigation,” he said. “But we have had two years where the traditional oversight function of the Congress simply hasn’t happened.”

The senior White House official insisted that, with the exception of new tax cuts, “all the issues on the president's agenda lend themselves to bipartisanship.”

Whether that bipartisanship actually happens, though, looks very far from certain.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. Jordan Fabian contributed.