The Note: Trump frees Democrats from policy traps

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks about Robert Muellers investigation in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 22, 2019, in Washington.PlayMark Wilson/Getty Images
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This may go down as the most productive infrastructure week yet. Nothing got built, but something big got blown up.

By storming away from the negotiating table, President Donald Trump was trying to punish Democrats by ending talk of a major infrastructure package -- something they support, in principle.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks about Robert Muellers investigation in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 22, 2019, in Washington. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks about Robert Mueller's investigation in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 22, 2019, in Washington.

But the president effectively imploded his own policy agenda for the next year and a half. Infrastructure, immigration, trade deals, any chance to get out in front on health-care policy -- it all disappears into the political morass.

"You probably can't go down two tracks," the president warned congressional leaders Wednesday.

Given the choice, Democrats would gladly choose investigating the president rather than working with an unpredictable partner they view as untrustworthy. Opportunities to work with Trump were, and are, littered with potential traps for Democratic lawmakers.

The president may think he outmaneuvered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but she, again, got herself out of uncomfortable internal conversations and back to solid political ground for Democrats: opposing Trump.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

It was always going to be hard to get big bills signed into law with this divided government, which has felt particularly toxic and dysfunctional of late -- even for Washington.

Still, part of Democrats' concern about leaning into investigations and oversight was that they would not be able to talk about their own ideas for policy and governing ahead of a presidential election.

Luckily for them, 23 people came to the rescue. The deluge of 2020 presidential primary candidates, all of whom seem to be willing to try to out-policy-proposition each other, means that for now Democrats have some cover.

The candidates in the primary race bring a serious wonk factor, with new positions and action plans rolled out nearly every day. The level of detail and nuance is different than what's normally seen at this stage.

Maybe it's the crowded field driving this "policy position" arms race, perhaps it's these particular candidates or a demand from the voters, but if Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer do not have as much time to talk about health care, their party is getting some help from these presidential hopefuls who do.

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 22, 2019, following a meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 22, 2019, following a meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House.

The TIP with Adam Kelsey

Every once in a while, there's a Capitol Hill vote important enough to drag presidential candidates off the trail and throw their previously scheduled campaign plans for a loop. Such is the case Thursday for Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, who have each postponed Iowa trips -- Booker, by one day; Harris, entirely -- in favor of remaining in Washington to vote on a long-stalled disaster relief funding bill.

And while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will join striking McDonald's workers in Illinois, North Carolina and Iowa, Booker and Sen. Bernie Sanders will have to support the rallies remotely from the nation's capital.

It's something of a catch-22 for senators who may want to keep up with their unemployed rivals, like former Vice President Joe Biden and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, or the race's mayors and governors who set their own schedules, but feel that they can't abandon such closely watched legislation. And, in this case, it's an aid package that could directly benefit Iowans impacted by record flooding and who caucus early in 2020.

Looking ahead, in an ironic twist, the congressional inactivity that may result from Wednesday's White House standoff between the president and Democratic leadership could make it easier for Washington' 2020 hopefuls to play hooky as they continue to pitch themselves for Trump's job.

PHOTO: Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., arrive at the chamber for the final vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 6, 2018. AP, FILE
Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., arrive at the chamber for the final vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 6, 2018.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce as they break down Trump's response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "cover-up" comments and what comes next between the White House and Congress. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. Chief Legal Analyst Dan Abrams weighs in on the potential fallout of House Democrats launching impeachment inquiries, saying it'd be "unprecedented" to use them as "fact-finding missions." He also speaks to ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce about his new book, "Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy." https://apple.co/23r5y7w

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Donald Trump meets with Energy Secretary Rick Perry at 11 a.m. and delivers remarks on "supporting America's farmers and ranchers" at 3:15 p.m. at the White House.
  • What the 2020 candidates are up to: Former Rep. John Delaney, Sen. Cory Booker and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are in Iowa; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is in Chicago; former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is in New Hampshire; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro is in North Carolina; and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in a Washington Post Live event starting at 9 a.m.

    Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the sharpest political analysis every weekday.