Catherine Rampell: Trump’s narrative is nonsense. So why is the media buying it?

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to U.S. servicemen at U.S. Navy multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp at the U.S. Navy's Yokosuka base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Washington • Yes, Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem right now is that all anyone ever asks about is the gum-chewing.

President Trump is steadily advancing a narrative that Democrats are unable to focus on a substantive policy agenda because they're too fixated on investigating, subpoenaing and, eventually, impeaching the president.

Or, as our victim in chief tweeted on Monday: "The Dems are getting NOTHING done in Congress! They only want a Do-Over on Mueller!"

This sort of nonsense is something we’ve come to expect from Trump. But more troubling, perhaps, is that many of us in the media have also been amplifying his false narrative.

As I noted in The Washington Post Opinions’ recent 2020 Power Ranking, the number of Democratic officials calling for impeachment has grown in recent weeks. Maybe they’re jumping on the impeachment train because they believe it’s the right thing to do, or because they think it’ll be politically advantageous.

But another plausible explanation for why so many Democrats are now talking about impeachment is that’s what we in the media, primed by Trump, ask them to talk about — often to the exclusion of other substantive issues that those Democrats are working on and that voters care about.

The topic dominated Sunday morning political shows this past weekend. In one particularly frustrating exchange, NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd asked Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., to address criticisms that the Democratic Party is too myopically focused on subpoenas and impeachment rather than "kitchen table" issues. He did this, of course, while only asking myopic questions about subpoenas and impeachment, and none about any of those "kitchen table" issues.

I support Congress' efforts to exercise oversight over the executive branch, including through subpoenas of Trump's financial records. Given Trump's historic lack of transparency, his sprawling business empire and his many fishy transactions over the years, lawmakers need to make sure that he is running the executive branch in the interest of the American public rather than his own pocketbook. We still don't know whether or how Trump's many financial entanglements — including hotel patronage by firms seeking merger approval, deals with shady partners abroad or whatever complicated tax shelters he's using — might be influencing policy decisions.

But, in fairness, there have been a lot of other issues — kitchen table issues, you might even say — that Democrats have also been pursuing, and to which pundits like me haven't given sufficient time or attention. Many of the proposals are good, some are bad; but, in any case, it's hard to argue that Democrats have been underinvesting in policy because they're overinvesting in oversight.

There's an energetic and contentious debate over the future of health care and the wisdom of a single-payer system. (For the record: I'm more optimistic about the creation of a public option that would coexist alongside private insurance, such as that proposed by the Medicare for America Act or the Medicare-X Choice Act.)

The 2020 candidates and other lawmakers — and their constituents — are still hashing that out. But, meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled House has already successfully passed a number of significant bills on health care and other areas voters say they care about.

One major bill addresses drug costs (by banning pay-for-delay generic prescription agreements) and repeals Trump's expansion of junk insurance plans (which often don't cover pre-existing conditions). Another bill attempts to narrow the gender pay gap. Another would require the United States to remain in the Paris climate accord, while another reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act.

Still another is a sweeping anti-corruption and election integrity measure. That may not exactly be a "kitchen table" issue, but it should theoretically appeal to all those Trumpkins who say they want to drain the swamp.

Again, these bills have all already passed the House. The reason they remain bills, rather than enacted legislation, is not that they're being crowded out by Democrats' supposedly all-consuming impeachment agenda. It's that the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to take them up.

And Trump himself is not exactly trying to move the ball forward, including on issues with opportunities for bipartisan consensus. Such as, oh, infrastructure — which, as you might recall, was the subject of the meeting Trump stormed out of last week, for his preplanned news conference on how Democrats supposedly only cared about investigating the president.

Which is to say: If anyone is too laser-focused on the threat of impeachment, it ain't the Democrats. It's the object of that potential impeachment, aided and abetted by a media he manages so masterfully.

Catherine Rampell

Catherine Rampell’s email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.