Trump goes scorched earth against impeachment talk

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE’s scorched-earth offensive against congressional Democrats this week is a clear sign he sees his path to reelection as being paved through battles with his opponents more than collaboration.

The president’s decisions to walk out of a White House meeting on infrastructure and to belittle and poke Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Democrats bicker over strategy on impeachment Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul MORE (D-Calif.) with personal attacks are likely to excite Trump supporters who like nothing more than his confrontations with the establishment.

“Donald Trump is a fighter — there’s no ambiguity about that — and he’s going to fight for what he believes in,” said Bryan Lanza, a former Trump campaign and transition aide. “He’s going to show he will do what’s right for the taxpayers and the voters, but all the Democrats want to do is talk about impeachment.”

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Yet there are also serious risks to the approach.

The lack of action on Capitol Hill robs Trump of the chance to add legislative achievements to his record.

Heading into an era of divided government, White House officials pointed to last year’s criminal justice law as evidence Trump was capable of working across the aisle on big issues such as infrastructure, trade and prescription drug pricing. Failing to address those priorities could be a turnoff with independent voters.

It would also undercut the notion he can use his status as a businessman and Washington outsider to cut through partisan gridlock to address the needs of the country.

And it takes the focus off Trump’s stewardship of a growing economy, which at present still looks like his greatest strength in a political campaign.

“It would be helpful for Trump to get something of some size done with the Democratic Congress to show that he is the great dealmaker he’s told everyone he is,” said Doug Heye, a Republican consultant who worked as a House leadership aide. “If he doesn’t have anything to show for it, that’s a problem for him.”

Republican lawmakers said Pelosi deserves blame for the breakdown because she accused Trump of a “cover-up” just before the infrastructure meeting. But some believe the current standoff does not benefit anyone.

“I hope not,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Trump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP MORE (R-Texas) said when asked if the probes are a reason not to do infrastructure. “Sometimes tempers flare around here and emotions get pretty high, but in the end, we've got work to do, and I think the best thing we could do for the people we work for is try to make progress where we can.”

There were other signs that the prospects for major legislation were slipping away, even before Wednesday’s blowup at the White House.

Trump for weeks had faced pushback from GOP lawmakers and some of his own staff over funding for his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal and separate talks with Democrats on a spending agreement had hit a snag.

Two top aides who have close ties to Capitol Hill — Johnny DeStefano and legislative affairs director Shahira Knight — announced Tuesday they are leaving, another sign Trump is shifting fully into campaign mode.

Democrats believe they have been handed a political gift by Trump since he, and not their party’s leaders, was the one to pull the plug on the talks.

Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanHouse Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) compared Trump ordering his then-attorney Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenSenior HUD official reprimanded for making political statements on the job New York attorneys subpoena eight years of Trump tax returns: report Eric Holder says Trump is subject to prosecution after leaving office MORE to pay adult-film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet about an affair to his demand that Democrats drop their investigations so they can work on an infrastructure package.

“The price of hush money's gone way up,” Sherman said.

“That's kind of sad to me, to be honest with you, because we're all here to do the people's work. And we can investigate and at the same time legislate. Nobody suffers but our constituents," said House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOvernight Defense: Trump says he has 'many options' on Iran | Hostage negotiator chosen for national security adviser | Senate Dems block funding bill | Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4K at Trump's Scotland resort Top Oversight Democrat demands immigration brass testify Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4,000 at Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland MORE (D-Md.), who is leading several investigations into the Trump administration.

But Trump and his campaign see political upside in putting Democrats on the defensive by essentially forcing them to choose between investigating and legislating. It is a strategy that Trump telegraphed last fall after the GOP lost control of the House, when he pledged a barrage of political attacks and counterinvestigations if Pelosi used her speakership to investigate him.

“I could see it being extremely good politically because I think I'm better at that game than they are, actually,” Trump said at the time.

Some see Trump as seeking to goad his opponents into an impeachment battle, which Republicans and some Democrats, including Pelosi, believe could be calamitous for her party.

Trump’s prediction about whether he’s better at the political game will be tested in the coming weeks, as the White House and congressional Democrats fight a pitched battle over subpoenas and document requests related to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerLewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation MORE’s Russia investigation.

Trump defended his approach by arguing Democrats’ investigations are politically motivated, saying this week that “their whole focus is on 2020 and trying to demean the Republican Party and demean the president of the United States.”

Trump’s campaign believes voters would punish Democrats for opening an impeachment proceeding, buoyed by polls showing most Americans are opposed to one.

Officials said it would give them an opening to paint the president’s 2020 opponents as out of touch.

“The only ones ‘goading’ impeachment are the rabid, crazed 2020 Democrats,” said campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany. “Baseless impeachment was always their ambition, and they’ve never stopped trying to overturn the legitimate results of the 2016 election. ... Democrats are being driven by the radical fringe of their party and are willing to destabilize and divide the country to make them happy.”

The White House’s stonewalling of their requests has heightened calls from Democrats to trigger impeachment proceedings, which has raised pressure on Pelosi.  

But the Speaker has pushed back on those demands by arguing Trump is “crying out for impeachment” and warning it would be a “very divisive place to go in our country.”

“We can get the facts to the American people through our investigation. It may take us to a place that is unavoidable in terms of impeachment or not. But we're not at that place,” she told reporters.  

Jordain Carney and Cristina Marcos contributed reporting.