The Memo: Trump’s troubles pile higher

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE’s troubles are piling up higher than ever — and there is no easy way out from beneath them.

The White House was rocked by two dramatic Russia-related stories over the weekend, one of which noted that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump in 2017, amid concerns that the president could be working to advance the Kremlin’s interests.

There is no end in sight to a partial government shutdown that most are pinning on the president.

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Democrats, now in control of the House, plan to ratchet up the pressure on Trump with hearings on a range of topics that could damage him politically.

And the dynamics of the 2020 presidential race are already being felt. Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, William Barr, will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. He is sure to face aggressive questioning from Democratic Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Energy: Natural gas export project gets green light | Ocasio-Cortez says climate fight needs to address farming | Top EPA enforcement official to testify Sanders endorses Oakland teachers strike News media has sought to 'delegitimize' Tulsi Gabbard, says liberal journalist MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders endorses Oakland teachers strike The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation builds for Mueller report Why Georgia is the place for black migration and politics MORE (N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar ate salad with her comb, ordered aide to clean it: report Sanders endorses Oakland teachers strike Dem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 MORE (Minn.), all of whom are possible presidential candidates.

The president, characteristically, evinces confidence amid the maelstrom.

In a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention in New Orleans on Monday, he talked up the positive changes his administration has, in his view, wrought on the nation. He was steadfast in his insistence that new sections of wall along the southern border had to be built.

“When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never ever back down,” Trump said. “I didn’t need this fight.”

But there is little sign that these arguments are gaining wider traction, either in relation to the shutdown — which is now the longest in American history — or in terms of the popular perceptions of Trump’s presidency.

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A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Sunday found 53 percent of respondents believe that Trump and Republicans are "mainly responsible" for the shutdown, while only 29 percent blame Democrats in Congress.

A CNN poll conducted by SSRS, also released on Sunday, indicated that 55 percent of adults surveyed believe Trump bears primary responsibility, while 32 percent point the finger at Democrats.

Trump’s overall job approval ratings are negative. In the RealClearPolitics polling average, 41.4 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s performance in office while 55 percent disapproved, as of Monday afternoon.

Republicans critical of the president believe he is deluding himself with his assertions of his own political strength.

“He has enormous unwarranted confidence in himself,” said John "Mac" Stipanovich, a longtime Florida GOP operative and a frequent Trump critic. “He won against all odds. I think that distorted his view of the world.”

Stipanovich also noted that Democrats will offer no respite now that they have the power to set the agenda in the House and compel testimony from people affiliated with the president.

He said that the upcoming appearance of Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, before Congress on Feb. 7 was “just the opening shot in what is going to be a barrage of investigations in the House, all of which will drive [Trump] further around the bend.”

Some Trump allies, however, argue that Democrats could easily overreach.

Brad Blakeman, who served in former President George W. Bush’s White House and is a supporter of the 45th president, told The Hill that Democratic investigations, especially related to Russia, could come to be seen as “a huge distraction to the country.”

Blakeman added, referring to Democrats, “If you abuse power, then you’ll lose power. I think they do it at their peril.”

Even if that is the case, however, Democrats are being encouraged by their base to pursue Trump over Russia-related matters, especially in light of the weekend’s revelations.

The story of the FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump was broken on Friday evening by The New York Times. The following day, The Washington Post reported that Trump had sought to limit official records of his in-person encounters with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The extraordinary developments dominated the political world, with the president being asked by Jeanine Pirro of Fox News on Saturday evening whether he had ever worked for the Russians.

Trump, who had called into Pirro’s show, answered indirectly, saying it was “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

On Monday, when a similar question was posed by Kristen Welker of NBC News as Trump prepared to leave the White House for New Orleans, the president was more straightforward.

“I never worked for Russia,” he said, adding that it was a “disgrace” that Welker had asked the question and that any such allegations were “a whole big fat hoax.”

Still, Democrats have seized on what they see as the need to delve more deeply into the president’s words and actions.

In a Saturday statement, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), pointed out that his panel would “in the coming weeks … take steps to better understand both the President’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDems press Barr to make Mueller report public Schiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE (D-Calif.), who has repeatedly clashed with the president, released a broadly similar statement.


Another open question is whether GOP support for Trump over the shutdown can be sustained as the effects mount on 800,000 federal workers.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump says he'll '100 percent' veto measure blocking emergency declaration Overnight Defense: Dems tee up Tuesday vote against Trump's emergency declaration | GOP expects few defections | Trump doubles number of troops staying in Syria to 400 On The Money: Dems set Tuesday vote on Trump's emergency declaration | Most Republicans expected to back Trump | Senate plots to avoid fall shutdown drama | Powell heading before Congress MORE (R-S.C.), usually a supportive figure for Trump, has proposed a compromise of a kind, under which government would be fully reopened for three weeks as negotiations over immigration continue.

Trump spurned that idea on Monday, telling reporters “I did reject it, yes. I'm not interested.”

The president seems happy, for now, to call his own shots.

But it is far from clear how that approach delivers a victory on any of the challenges that face him.