The Memo: Allies worry as Trump’s woes mount

Republicans, including some allies of President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE, are worried that the White House is ill-prepared for the sea of troubles it is facing.

Those concerns were made more acute by two dramatic developments on Tuesday and Wednesday: the president’s stormy meeting with Democratic congressional leaders at which he said he would be “proud” to shut down the government, and his former lawyer Michael Cohen being sentenced to three years in prison.

One GOP operative told The Hill the White House had “zero plan or interest” in developing an approach to deal with a radically changed landscape on Capitol Hill.


Come January, Democrats will be able to set large parts of the legislative agenda, frustrate Trump’s objectives and subpoena his allies, likely including family members, to testify before House committees.

But before things even reach that point, the risk of a government shutdown looms if — as seems certain — Democrats refuse to give Trump as much money as he wants to build the southern border wall that was one of his signature campaign promises.

In an extraordinary meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump squabbled with likely Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.). 

He expressed surprise after Pelosi referred to the possibility of a “Trump shutdown” and argued about the interpretation of November’s midterm election results. But it was his comment that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” that caused the most consternation even among ideological allies. 

Liberals were buoyant afterward, believing that Pelosi, in particular, had gotten the better of the president. 

In the process, the long-serving Democratic leader shored up her bid to retake the Speaker’s gavel — an effort that had been in some degree of doubt, though the uncertainty is fast diminishing.

As the drama of that meeting continued to reverberate on Wednesday, some Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed their dissatisfaction. 

MSBNC’s Garrett Haake described on Twitter a brief interaction with GOP House Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOn The Money: House panel spars over GameStop, Robinhood | Manchin meets with advocates for wage | Yellen says go big, GOP says hold off House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Robinhood CEO, regulators to testify at House hearing on GameStop frenzy MORE (N.C.) in which McHenry simply replied “Yep” when asked whether Trump’s comment complicated his party’s messaging on a shutdown and declined to be drawn further.

Some Republican strategists have expressed similar frustrations. Former House GOP aide Kevin Madden told CNBC on Tuesday that “Trump won't work to preserve the leverage they need to exact concessions or negotiate.”

The self-created drama is coming at a time when Trump has appeared increasingly enraged by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE’s probe and related developments. In addition to the Cohen case, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn is facing sentencing next week for lying to the FBI.

Trump also has yet to decide who will replace John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE as chief of staff. 

Kelly had been scheduled to depart by the end of the year and Trump’s first choice to replace him — Nick Ayers, who currently serves in the chief of staff role for Vice President Pence — has decided to return to his native Georgia instead of taking the job. 

The move caused fury among some key Trump advisers who believed Ayers embarrassed the president.

Trump has insisted that he will have no difficulty filling the role, even telling three Reuters reporters who interviewed him on Tuesday, “I mean, you three guys would take it.” 

Trump says he is looking at 10 to 12 candidates. But on Wednesday afternoon, the White House confirmed that Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE (R-N.C.) the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, would not get the job.

Meadows had expressed keen interest in the role and some of his allies had advocated for him, but a White House official told The Hill that Trump needed Meadows to remain in the House. The news that Meadows was no longer in the running was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Other Republicans insist that the picture for Trump is not as bleak as pessimists fear. They argue that even Trump’s performance in the White House meeting with Schumer and Pelosi played far better with his base than the media have been willing to acknowledge.

They said that Trump had displayed strength and a refusal to be pushed around, and that these assets would be vital in the months ahead.

“If he does not draw a line in the sand now, this is the type of resistance he is going to face in the next two years,” said GOP strategist Brad Blakeman, a veteran of former President George W. Bush’s White House and a supporter of the current president.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican communications strategist who worked on Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation process last year, also praised Trump’s demeanor in the meeting. 

“The president is definitely staking out his territory, making sure that House and Senate Democrats know that he is not going to be rolled over, and that he will continue to set the pace and the tone of what is going on in Washington. That was his message — that he’s in charge.” 

But whether Trump can retain so tight a grip on the levers of power come January is in serious doubt.

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