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Trump, Congress and an absence of happy endings

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The White House

It’s hard to see how this ends well.

President Donald Trump and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives took another few steps Wednesday in their slow dance toward disaster.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, emerged from a meeting with her caucus to say that the president was engaged in a “cover-up.” That caucus meeting came about because some of the more restive Democrats have stepped up their calls for the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.

At almost the same time, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-California, reported that the committee had struck a deal with U.S. Attorney General William Barr to see the whole, unredacted report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In exchange for the report, the committee won’t enforce a subpoena against Barr.

The subpoena will remain in place, though, until Barr produces the report.

Just before all of this, a federal court ruled that Trump and the White House must accede to House demands for the president’s tax returns. The president has vowed to appeal, but his appeal will be heard by Merrick Garland, the Supreme Court nominee Republicans kept parked in the lobby so they could ram through conservative justices of their choosing.

Trump, for his part, continues to tweet and speak defiance, vowing not to let anyone in his administration testify before Congress or to give the House any of his tax records, regardless of what the law says he must do.

The president’s legal argument is not much more sophisticated than saying, “I don’t want to, and I’ll hold my breath if you make me.”

As if to demonstrate that, he cut short a Wednesday meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House. The meeting was about repairing America’s aging and increasingly dangerous infrastructure. The president said there would be no movement on making America and Americans safer until the investigations into his conduct end.

That’s right.

He’s holding the country hostage until he gets his way.

Most of the attention in this struggle has been focused on the byplay between Trump and the House Democrats.

But they’re not really the ones who are exposed here.

Trump, after all, is in a fight for survival. There is a panicky logic to his moves, all of which are designed to get him to the end of another day. The siege mentality counts every near-miss as a victory, even if the shots fired hit other targets and create other casualties.

For Democrats in the House, there is no downside to investigating Trump. The only debate within the party and the Democratic base is over how fast the investigations should proceed. The saner, more experienced hands know that time is on their side.

Witness the “deal” struck by Schiff and Barr. It was a deal in the same sense that a cat and a mouse strike a deal before the cat dines. Schiff got what he wanted. In return, Barr got the opportunity not to be prosecuted with only a sheepish “you caught me” smile as his defense.

The ones in a bind are Republicans in Congress.

They made a deal with the devil when they linked arms with this president. They wanted conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court and tax cuts for the wealthy.

They got both of those things, but at a cost.

They now find themselves having to defend a president who becomes more erratic by the day.

The temper tantrum over infrastructure is but the latest example of pique and impulsiveness coming together to form self-destructive public policy.

This, after all, is the same president who has pouted his way into a trade war with China – a trade war that most hurts states that tend to vote Republican.

Worse, thinking Republicans are aware of the dangerous precedents Trump attempts to establish. If he gets his way, future GOP Congresses won’t be able to investigate Democrats who, say, take campaign aid or even cash from China. To prop up a president who doesn’t seem to care about them or their constituents, they’re trading away powers to protect their rights and their constituents’ interests.

That’s not good for Republicans.

It’s also not good for the country.

It’s hard to see how this ends well for anyone.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.