Seeking to launch a 2018 agenda that ranges from upgrading infrastructure to confronting North Korea over nuclear weapons, President Trump and his aides instead find themselves in an unprecedented debate — one over the president's basic mental fitness.
In the wake of a high-profile tell-all book — and President Trump's own tweets — critics, lawmakers, and other observers are openly questioning Trump's mental fitness for a job that includes control of the nation's nuclear weapons.
"Plainly, we have a seriously flawed human being in the Oval Office," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee speaking Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.
Schiff, one of the leaders of a congressional investigation into links between Trump's campaign and Russians who sought to influence the 2016 election, added: "Will those flaws be allowed to permeate the whole of government?"
Trump aides appeared on Sunday news shows to echo the president's complaints that the attacks are pure politics, based on a book of "fiction" and false gossip being promoted by the president's enemies.
"When we talk about some of the most serious matters facing America and the world — complex issues — the president is engaged, he understands the complexity," CIA Director Michael Pompeo told Fox News Sunday, describing the questions about Trump's stability "ridiculous" and politically motivated.
Trump himself — who over the weekend took the extraordinary step of taking to Twitter to defend his mental capacity, calling himself a "very stable genius" — also took aim at the news media.
"I've had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President," Trump tweeted Sunday. "Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author."
Referring to claims made about a previous president, Trump said: "Ronald Reagan had the same problem and handled it well. So will I!"
The mental stability questions shadowed Trump's weekend retreat at Camp David with congressional Republicans.
The president and GOP allies sought to plot a legislative agenda that includes an infrastructure program designed to improve the nation's roads and bridges, national security, a crackdown on illegal immigration, elimination of federal regulations, and more attempts to reverse President Obama's health care law.
On Monday Trump will travel to Nashville, Tenn., to deliver an address about his efforts to bolster American farmers and rural economies. He also has a physical scheduled for Friday.
Meeting with reporters Saturday after the retreat, Trump found himself talking instead about his decision to tweet about his mental health. He said he felt he had to answer publicity about Fire and Fury: Inside the White House, in which author Michael Wolff cites anonymous aides questioning Trump's intelligence, capacity to absorb information, and overall mental health.
Trump said he went "to the best colleges," made "billions and billions of dollars" in business, had "tremendous success" on television as host of The Apprentice.
"Ran for president one time and won," Trump said.
Hours before, Trump lashed out on Twitter, claiming that political enemies are accusing him of instability because they have been unable to tag him with wrongdoing in the Russia investigation.
"Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart," Trump said in a trio of posts. Saying he won the presidency on his "first try," Trump said that "I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!"
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, during a contentious interview on CNN's State of the Union, described Trump as a "political genius," and said Wolff's book is a "pile of trash through and through."
The president also received some support from overseas. Asked about Trump's mental state, British Prime Minister Theresa May said, "he is taking decisions on what he believes is in the best interests of the United States."
Even before the book's release, Trump triggered questions about his stability with a Tuesday night tweet in which he proclaimed he has a bigger "nuclear button" than Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who has frequently threatened the United States with attack.
A group of mental health professionals, describing themselves as a "national coalition," issued a statement calling on lawmakers to "restrain" the president.
"We believe that he is now further unraveling in ways that contribute to his belligerent nuclear threats," the statement said. "We are aware that statements coming from North Korea contribute greatly to the problem, but our concern is with the behavior of our own President."
Politicians have long accused each other of being unhinged, arguments that trace back to the time of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton at the start of the nation.
During the Vietnam and Watergate era, lawmakers questioned the stability of presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, but not in public and in the media.
In Trump's case these questions are front and center. Wolff isn't the first journalist to cite aides raising concerns about the president's behavior and temperament.
"Too many Trump associates have claimed on background that they believe he's unhinged to ignore a mounting — if non-professional — consensus," said presidential historian Joshua Zeitz, author of the forthcoming Building The Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House. "He also publicly exhibits delusional behavior that is without precedent."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who ran for president in 2016, declined to analyze Trump's mental state when asked on ABC's This Week. Sanders said he is more worried about Trump policies that hurt working people, though he also cited Trump's questionable relationship with the truth.
"I worry about him being a pathological liar," Sanders said.