The Memo: Dems sink teeth into Trump

Democrats are sinking their teeth into the Trump administration, using their control of the House to barrage the White House with inquiries into the president and his associates.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is leading the charge. On Monday, he announced he was requesting documents pertaining to 81 people or entities. Among those in his panel’s sights are President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE’s son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump executive order aimed at combating anti-Semitism stirs up controversy Trump hosts pastor who says 'Jews are going to hell' at White House Hanukkah party Mark Levin calls Trump 'first Jewish president' MORE, his son Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpMelania Trump's 'Be Best' hashtag trends after president goes after Greta Thunberg Trump Jr. blasts Time for choosing 'marketing gimmick' Greta Thunberg as Person of the Year White House calls Democratic witness's mentioning of president's youngest son 'classless' MORE, Vice President Pence and a host of others.

 Many Democrats outside Congress welcome the moves, which they see as a vital effort to hold the administration to account.

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“They have a duty and responsibility to provide oversight — something that has been missing from Congress for the past two years,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine.

The Democrats are upping the pressure on Trump as the president endures a torrid time on other fronts as well.

His former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified before Congress last week, causing an international sensation with his descriptions of Trump as a “cheat,” a “racist” and a “con man.”

Almost simultaneously, Trump’s much-hyped summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly and without agreement — something Trump appeared to blame on the Cohen hearing in a later tweet.

The president’s frustration was plain on Saturday as he delivered a rambling address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that lasted more than two hours.

Meanwhile, Trump faces potential political embarrassment over his declaration of a national emergency — a decision taken in order to get funds for his southern border wall after Congress refused his requests for money. On Sunday, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Pentagon to take bigger role in vetting foreign students after Pensacola shooting Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons MORE (R-Ky.) announced he would back a congressional measure expressing disapproval of the move. Paul’s decision makes it virtually certain the resolution will pass in the Senate, since GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsIs a trap being set for Trump in the Senate trial? The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiIs a trap being set for Trump in the Senate trial? The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial MORE (Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Democrats spend big to put Senate in play Group of veterans call on lawmakers to support impeachment, 'put country over politics' MORE (N.C.) have already adopted similar stances.

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Speaking briefly with reporters on Monday, Trump simultaneously suggested he would accede to the House Democrats’ requests for documents and that such demands were groundless.

“I cooperate all the time with everybody,” he said, according to pool reports, before adding, “It’s all a hoax.”

The previous day, he had fought back more vociferously, complaining on Twitter about what he termed “Presidential Harassment by ‘crazed’ Democrats,” as well as unfair treatment at the hands of “the most vicious and corrupt Mainstream Media that any president has ever had to endure.”

On Sunday, Nadler said during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” that Trump had been “directly implicated … in various crimes” by Cohen and asserted that Trump had been culpable of obstruction of justice.

When it comes to the political implications of all these events, some Democratic strategists argue that much will depend on what kind of wrongdoing, if any, lawmakers can reveal — and how relevant it appears to the lives of Americans not yet implacably opposed to Trump.

“There is an inherent political advantage so long as [Trump’s behavior] shows some kind of damage to people who actually vote,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist based in New York.

But Sheinkopf wanted that it was possible his party could overreach as well. “If it comes to be seen as an attack on family, it will look to some — and remember, Trump has 40 percent support — that his family is being bullied, which would not be good, electorally.”

Republicans, especially those who have served under Trump, believe that Democrats could indeed be misreading the public mood.

“I think they are not going to be able to help themselves from overreaching and going after 80 people who are mostly private citizens. That has the potential to backfire,” said one former White House official who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

This source further protested that “Democrats are weaponizing the heavy hand of the federal government to go after their political enemies.”

Democrats clearly feel competing pressures from their own base, which by and large loathes Trump, and the broader population, which is far more evenly split. 

A Wall Street Journal–NBC News poll in recent days indicated that Trump’s job performance wins the approval of 46 percent of adults and the disapproval of 53 percent — a showing that is neither stellar nor disastrous.

Those kinds of numbers are balanced finely enough for Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill to be circumspect about launching impeachment proceedings. 

Key figures in the party, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUSMCA is nice but no model Anti-impeachment Democrat poised to switch parties Grassley urges White House to help farmers in year-end tax talks MORE (D-Calif.), have displayed little appetite for a speedy start to an impeachment effort, presumably seeing a risk of a political backlash. Nadler, during his Sunday talk show appearance, said that impeachment is “a long way down the road.”

For now, most in the party seem content to turn the screws on Trump — and see how he reacts to the pressure.

Trump “has been given a free ride since the day he took the Oval Office,” said Devine, the Democratic strategist. 

“He was not subjected to any kind of public scrutiny, and that process is about to begin.”

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