Trump makes surprise press appearance after Pelosi takes gavel

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos claims he was pressured to sign plea deal Tlaib asking colleagues to support impeachment investigation resolution Trump rips 'Mainstream Media': 'They truly are the Enemy of the People' MORE made a surprise appearance in the White House press briefing room on Thursday just hours after Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Democrats face dilemma after Mueller probe ends Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (D-Calif.) took the Speaker’s gavel on Capitol Hill.

Trump began the hastily announced event by congratulating Pelosi on her victory, but quickly pivoted to making the case for his long-promised border wall.

“You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want, but essentially we need protection in our country. We’re going to make it good. The people of our country want it,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump said he has “never had so much support” on an issue. As if to demonstrate it, the president invited eight members of the union representing border agents, mostly men with shaved heads, standing behind him to speak in favor of a wall.

The president only made brief mention of Pelosi, extending an olive branch to work together on issues like infrastructure and brushing aside the expected conflicts between the two leaders. 

“I think it's actually going to work out. I think it'll be a little bit different than a lot of people are thinking. So I congratulate Nancy. Tremendous, tremendous achievement,” he said. 

The unusual, eight-minute statement appeared designed to change the subject on cable news, which had focused all day on the Democratic takeover of the House and how divided government could check Trump’s powers.

And, now that Democrats have a foothold of power, the president has lost leverage in negotiations over border wall funding that has resulted in a 13-day partial government shutdown.

On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, House Democrats were preparing to pass a measure to reopen the government without funding Trump’s unfulfilled campaign promise.

“Nothing for the wall,” Pelosi said Thursday on NBC News’s “Today” show. “There is no amount of persuasion he can do.”

Trump nonetheless was eager to reclaim the spotlight and try and steer the public debate back in his direction.

Minutes after his press statement, Trump published an image on Instagram inspired by the HBO series “Game of Thrones” that featured his photo with the slogan “The Wall Is Coming” over a depiction of a steel-slat fence.

The origins of Thursday’s event were bizarre, even for a White House where unpredictability is a constant feature.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley made an announcement just before 4:10 p.m. over the loudspeaker in the press work area that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would hold a briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, an increasingly rare event.

Sanders last briefed reporters on Dec. 18. The White House has been operating with a shoestring communications staff during the shutdown and preparations for a Thursday briefing did not appear underway ahead of time.

Roughly 15 minutes later, Sanders and the immigration agents walked onto the podium. The spokeswoman welcomed reporters and said she would “kick 2019 off slightly differently” by having Trump speak in the briefing room.

“First time I’ve ever done this,” the president said, turning to the border agents behind him as he concluded his remarks. “This is the first time I’ve done it. I’ve done it for you.”

But the event did not turn out to be a full-fledged briefing: neither Trump nor Sanders took questions from reporters.

Trump’s pitch for the wall sets the stage for a Friday meeting, in which congressional leaders will return to the White House for another round of talks over the shutdown.

The group’s last meeting on Wednesday quickly devolved when Democratic leaders cut off Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen to confront Trump over why he will not accept a compromise proposal to reopen most of the shuttered agencies while wall talks continue.

The White House aides has threatened to veto Pelosi’s proposal and aides have said the president will only approve funding measures that include billions of dollars in funding for the wall. Democrats have repeatedly said they will not grant Trump’s request.

Updated at 5:38 p.m.