Senior White House officials continued their post-Mueller report offensive Tuesday against Democrats by contending the opposition party is obsessed with investigating President Donald Trump and unwilling to negotiate on legislation.
The new line of attack came after Trump and his team on Monday went on the offensive by accusing some involved in investigating him with “treasonous” acts and hit Democrats with a charge of attempting to “overthrow” the federal government. But by Tuesday, the White House said it was ready to open talks on infrastructure and drug pricing legislation —alleging that Democrats refuse to come to the table.
“I don’t think they’re talking about impeachment,” Trump told reporters at the Capitol, referring to congressional Democrats. “We have the greatest economy we’ve ever had. Our country is in incredible shape. They and others created a fraud on our country with this ridiculous witch hunt — where it proven very strongly: no collusion, no obstruction, no nothing.”
Trump was there to huddle with Senate Republicans about “what’s on the docket,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said earlier Tuesday.
“It would be nice if some Democratic senators and some Democratic House members would make good on their [talk about] working with the White House, working in a bipartisan fashion on drug pricing and on infrastructure,” she told a group of reporters outside the West Wing. “Where are they? … This president is open to meeting with them.”
“Now they’re going to investigate more? What are they going to investigate?” Conway said on a windy morning, wearing sunglasses she proudly noted she purchased at Walmart. “The Mueller investigation is the gold standard. … And if the investigators on Capitol Hill want to continue, it will be seen as ... partisan.”
But Trump met only with Republicans on the Hill. And later Tuesday, he huddled with another group of GOP lawmakers on his proposed revised U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade deal at the White House. No Democrats, despite Conway’s criticism of the other party, were invited to either session.
One Democratic official said the White House’s offensive and partisan reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings “isn’t surprising — but it is amateurish.”
“They have an opportunity — for the first time in this presidency — to take the high ground and rally the country to unify behind priorities that Democrats and Republicans agree on,” the Democratic official said. “That would make it much harder for Democrats to counterprogram. Instead, they’re playing childish games, which will reinforce Democrats as the adults in Washington.”
White House officials on Monday made clear they felt a feeling in the West Wing that Trump — after months of a cloud from the Mueller probe hanging over his presidency — finally had the momentum. That came even with Democratic members questioning Mueller’s decision to state his report does not exonerate the president on the question of whether he obstructed justice.
(In his summary of the special counsel’s report, Attorney General William P. Barr — with input from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — concluded that the president did not, prompting howls from Democrats.)
Apparently eager to seize that perceived momentum, the Trump administration on Monday night said in a filing with a federal appeals court that the entire 2010 health care law should be struck down after the effective repeal of the so-called “individual mandate,” potentially bringing into question health coverage for millions of Americans just as the president’s 2020 re-election campaign is kicking into gear.
“The Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’” Trump tweeted before taking a short motorcade ride to the Capitol for a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans. Once there, he was asked to explain his tweet, and he appeared to be confident about the court filing even though his White House and party have offered nothing to replace the Obama-era law, saying, “Let me just tell you exactly what my message is: The Republican party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch.”
Republicans failed in 2017 to repeal and replace the entire law, but did take down its “individual mandate” with a tax bill Trump signed into law just before Christmas later that year. But Democrats countered in the 2018 midterms that saw them take control of the House, with many of the party’s candidates vowing to preserve popular parts of the Affordable Care Act and mend parts not working as intended.
White House officials defended the health care move as necessary and not a controversial action that threatens to drown out what they see as a big win from Mueller’s finding of no criminal-level collusion with Russians.
“Here we are, nine years later, and we have close to 28 or 30 million Americans with no health coverage,” Conway said. “So it wasn’t the magic elixir for many Americans.”
Health care was a hot topic during Trump’s meeting with Senate Republicans as well, in the aftermath of the Department of Justice moving to not defend the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law.
“He really feels that we’re being mischaracterized when we say we want to get rid of Obamacare, that somehow that means we shouldn’t protect people that have pre-existing conditions,” said Sen. Mike Rounds. “That’s just simply not the case, but there’s better ways to do it than what Obamacare tried to do.”
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.
Lindsey Graham calls for a special counsel investigation on ‘the other side of the story’ following Mueller report