In a remarkably unguarded and contentious exchange in front of reporters and pool cameras inside the Oval Office Tuesday, President Trump and Congressional Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi argued over border security.
The president said he would take responsibility for shutting down the government if Congress doesn’t appropriate funding for a wall on the southern border.
“If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government,” Trump said. “I am proud to shut down the government over border security, Chuck. … I will take the mantle. … I’m not going to blame you for it.”
“Fair enough,” Schumer said. “We disagree.”
Without new spending authority, parts of the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, will run out of money and shut down at the end of next week.
“I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that we should not have a Trump shutdown,” Pelosi said.
The president complained that his proposal would not pass the Senate, where it would need support from some Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold.
Pelosi insisted it didn’t have support in the House of Representatives, which is currently controlled by Republicans but will soon give way to Democrats.
“The fact is, you do not have the votes in the House,” she said.
Trump said that it would pass the House “easily” but that he is unwilling to push for a vote until he can gather support in the Senate.
“Nancy, I need 10 votes from Chuck,” Trump said.
Vice President Mike Pence, seated next to Trump, sat silently throughout the exchange.
Pelosi pleaded with the president to have the border discussion in private.
“I don’t think we should have this debate in front of the press,” Pelosi said. “This has spiraled downward.”
Schumer said he and Pelosi had a proposal that would avert a government shutdown, but he gave no indication that he would accede to the president’s demand to fund construction of the wall.
Building a wall on the Mexican border was a centerpiece of Trump’s 2016 campaign, although he promised at the time that he would force Mexico to pay for it.
“You just say, ‘My way or we’ll shut down the government,’” Schumer said. “You have called 20 times to shut down the government. You say, ‘I want to shut down the government.’ We don’t. We want to come to an agreement.”
Trump’s sit-down with Schumer and Pelosi was the first time the president has met face-to-face with Democratic leadership since November’s midterm elections. The meeting had been scheduled to take place last week but was delayed because of former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral services.
“I don’t think we disagree so much,” Trump said. “I also know that Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now and I understand that.
Pelosi, who is in line to become House speaker in January, was unmoved.
“Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength I bring to this meeting,” she said, noting that Democrats regained control of the House.
“We won the Senate,” Trump said.
“When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble,” Schumer interjected.
After their meeting with Trump, Pelosi and Schumer addressed reporters outside the White House, pinning a possible government shutdown squarely on Trump.
“The president made clear that he wants a shutdown,” Schumer said. “If he sticks to his position for a $5 billion wall, he will get no wall and he will get a shutdown.”
“This temper tantrum that he seems to throw will not get him his wall,” Schumer added.
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