Trump, Democratic leaders go toe-to-toe at White House

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE and Democratic leaders Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden blasts Trump, demands he release transcript of call with foreign leader Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week MORE and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE met at the White House on Tuesday, ostensibly to resolve a government funding impasse.

It turned out to be much more than that.

The leaders pointed fingers at each other, raised their voices and assigned blame over a possible shutdown, offering an ugly first glimpse of what divided government in Washington might look like next year.

ADVERTISEMENT

The meeting began as Oval Office photo opportunities typically do, with the leaders posing for the cameras while sitting in front of a fireplace on upholstered chairs and sofas. Trump offered some introductory remarks that alluded to the possibility of a bipartisan compromise that might keep the government open.

But the discussion quickly descended into chaos once Trump brought up the elephant in the room: the border wall.

Trump allowed reporters and television cameras to remain as he delivered a roughly 4½ minute monologue arguing for border wall funding, making several questionable claims about the progress of construction and raising the prospect of a partial shutdown if he does not get his funding request.

The unpredictable move appeared to fluster the Democratic leaders, who went into the meeting expecting it to be closed to the media.

“We are here to have a conversation,” a seemingly exasperated Pelosi (Calif.), the House Democratic leader, said while gesturing to the cameras. “So I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this.”

Vice President Pence sat at Trump’s side, staying silent as if he wanted no part of the spat.

But the televised conflict over immigration appeared to be exactly what the reality TV star-turned-president craved.

It was a chance for Trump to make a show of strength in his first meeting with top Democrats following Republican losses in the midterm elections and to demonstrate to his base that he’s committed after securing an agreement for a Senate vote on criminal justice reform legislation panned by some law-and-order conservatives.

The president, however, appeared to be caught off guard on several occasions by his emboldened Democratic opponents, who were eager to flex their own political muscles in front of Trump and the cameras.

Trump grew visibly irritated during Pelosi’s opening remarks, when she warned of a “Trump shutdown” if the president refused to budge from his position on border wall money.

The president leaned toward Pelosi and asked, “A what? Did you say ‘Trump?’ ” before whispering in the direction of Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democratic leader, that he had been planning to call it a “Pelosi shutdown.”

Like Trump, Pelosi had reason to strike a tough stance. The California liberal is battling to win the Speakership next month and is working furiously to keep her anti-Trump base unified.

Pelosi, a seasoned negotiator, appeared to get under the president’s skin when she pointed out that the GOP lost dozens of seats in Congress.

“Nancy, we’ve gained in the Senate. Excuse me, did we win the Senate? We won the Senate,” Trump responded, prompting a grinning Schumer to reply that winning seats in North Dakota and Indiana was nothing for a Republican president to brag about.

Pelosi continued talking and refused to look at Trump after the president interrupted her.

Trump also suggested Pelosi’s leadership race is hampering her leverage, needling her by stating: “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now.”

“Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory,” she shot back, this time pointing and looking directly at Trump.

Upon returning to Capitol Hill, Pelosi told a private gathering of her Democratic colleagues that the wall fight appeared to be a “manhood thing” for Trump.

“It’s like a manhood thing for him — as if manhood could ever be associated with him — this wall thing,” she said.

Schumer, Trump’s old acquaintance from New York, presented a unified front with Pelosi.

The president expressed defiance when Schumer pointed out The Washington Post’s fact-checker awarded Trump “a whole lot of Pinocchios” because they reported he “constantly misstate[d] how much of the wall is built.”

“The Washington Post?” a frowning Trump interjected, before chuckling and turning toward Pence, who did not react.

After Schumer wrapped up his opening remarks, Trump raised his voice and told the top Senate Democrat “you got killed” the last time the government shut down.

As the two men bickered over who would be to blame for a Christmastime shutdown, Schumer coaxed Trump into making a comment that Republicans on Capitol Hill suggested was regrettable.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump said. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

After the meeting, Schumer vented his frustration with Trump’s stubbornness in negotiations but expressed disbelief the president would accept political blame for a shutdown.

“This temper tantrum that he seems to throw will not get him his wall and it’ll hurt a lot of people,” Schumer said. “He admitted he wanted to shut down. It’s hard to believe that he would want that.”

Pelosi in a closed-door meeting with Democrats said it had been an “accomplishment” to get Trump to say he’d be responsible for a shutdown.

Trump after the meeting declared victory and doubled down on his vow to take the blame if there’s a shutdown.

“Believe it or not, I think it was a very friendly meeting,” Trump said. “I respect them both, and we made a lot of progress.”

He also boasted of his stamina in his battle with Democrats: “I could’ve debated Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE for a long period of time.”