White House

Congress did not get the ‘impeachment destroyed legislation’ memo

Trump aides contradicted one another about fate of bills as House Democrats probe Ukraine call

President Donald Trump exits a press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday — the first full day of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — The White House wasted little time planting seeds of doubt about the legislative agenda after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry, but officials quickly backtracked from those threats.

Just hours after the California Democrat cited Benjamin Franklin and his challenge to “keep” America’s constitutional republic, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham accused House Democrats of having “destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks.”

“Their attacks on the president and his agenda are not only partisan and pathetic, they are in dereliction of their constitutional duty,” Grisham said in a statement, suggesting that agenda would be put in the deep freeze during the impeachment inquiry.

As he learned of Pelosi’s change-of-heart on impeachment while attending a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Trump said an inquiry into his request of the new Ukrainian president to investigate potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden would be “bad for the country.” He also predicted it would end any hope of major legislation as House Democrats worked on their six investigations of his presidency and business dealings.

[Whistleblower describes White House trying to cover up Ukraine phone call]

“Then they all wonder why they don’t get gun legislation done, then they wonder why they don’t get drug prices lowered,” Trump said. “Because all they do is talk nonsense. No more infrastructure bills, no more anything.”

The bluster conjured memories of the president’s angry warning the day after last fall’s midterms handed Democrats control of the House — and the keys to impeachment. That day, during a sometimes-combative East Room press conference, Trump warned the incoming House majority to tread lightly with their planned investigations.

He said if they went too far in his view, he would take his administration to a “war-like posture” and shut down any hopes that major legislation could garner his signature and become law.

But like then, the White House’s threats this week didn’t last long. Just minutes after the press secretary’s statement landed, there were signs the legislative train was continuing down the tracks.

Trump had no intention of forcing a government shutdown over the launch of the impeachment inquiry, with a source with knowledge of his thinking saying he plans to sign a stopgap spending measure the Senate is set to send him this week.

Within minutes of the release of Grisham’s statement, a White House official directly contradicted it.

“The president will continue to aggressively push his agenda,” the official told CQ Roll Call. “Will see where the speaker places her priorities.”

On Capitol Hill, Grisham’s statement did not gain much traction.

Lawmakers continued work on spending bills, with Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby telling reporters he was headed to the White House on Friday to talk to the president about the state of the appropriations debate. And the Alabama Republican made clear lawmakers want to move spending bills, saying they are looking for a way to get the annual Pentagon policy bill moving.

He also indicated that members of both parties are indeed eager to legislate, with Republicans and Democrats trying to avert a government shutdown.

[Trump unable to explain why ask of Ukraine leader was legal]

“I would think we’d pass the [continuing resolution]. Who will shut the government down? I don’t think the Democrats want to, and I know we don’t,” Shelby said of a stopgap spending bill the Senate sent to Trump as it headed out for a two-week recess for the Jewish holidays.

The House has been steadily churning out legislation, including a measure to beef up firearms background checks that has stalled in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is mostly focused on clearing Trump’s judicial nominations.

Members’ offices and committees on Wednesday and Thursday fired off statements about bills that had cleared the House floor or had been approved by a Senate committee. The topics were wide-ranging, with members giving a silent — and bipartisan — thumb of the nose to Grisham and the White House.

Meantime, in New York, the president vacillated Wednesday from leaving the door open to doing “deals” with Democrats to slamming it shut.

“When Nancy Pelosi allows her position to be taken over by radical far-left socialists, or worse, that’s pretty bad,” he said during a meandering press conference.

A couple of hours earlier, he told reporters his administration “can’t go to the United States Congress because the Democrats are playing games.”

“They don’t have any time to do anything else,” he said. “They don’t have time to do gun safety. They don’t have time to do infrastructure. They have time to do nothing else.”

Yet, Shelby made clear there will be plenty of legislating to discuss when he meets with Trump, saying the two will discuss “the appropriations stall we’re in now — or crossroads. I’ll talk to the president about where we are, our perspective and our concerns.”

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.