WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump openly fought with the top two Democratic lawmakers in the Oval Office on Tuesday about government funding, throwing into question whether a deal was possible ahead of a deadline later this month.
In a remarkable public argument, the likes of which is seldom seen before cameras, Trump brawled with U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi about funding for the wall he has promised to build on the southern border with Mexico.
“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 as the heated argument drew to a crescendo.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country,” he said before reporters left their ringside seats.
Vice President Mike Pence sat beside Trump, silent and stone faced.
Congress wants to finalize spending before a Dec. 21 deadline. While Trump’s fellow Republicans control the House of Representatives and Senate until next month, Democratic support is needed to pass spending legislation.
If the impasse cannot be resolved by Dec. 21, about one-quarter of the federal government immediately would be left without funding. Money for the rest of the government already has been appropriated.
Ironically, in boasting he was “proud” to shut down the government for border security, Trump would be shuttering the very agency in charge of border security – the Department of Homeland Security. In past shutdown battles, workers deemed “essential” were instructed to work.
Other federal agencies that also would face closures include the departments of State, Commerce and Agriculture, while visitors would not be allowed into federal parks.
Trump has asked Congress for $5 billion for border security, while Schumer and Pelosi said they offered to extend funding at current levels, around $1.3 billion. That is less than the $1.6 billion a bipartisan Senate committee approved.
When he ran for president in 2016, Trump vowed that a U.S.-Mexico border wall would be built and that Mexico would pay the full cost, an idea the Mexican government never embraced.
The meeting did not last long after reporters were ushered out of the Oval Office. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement it was a “constructive dialogue” and said Trump was “grateful” cameras captured him fighting to protect the border.
Back on Capitol Hill, Schumer accused Trump of throwing a tantrum but said Trump told the Democrats he would consider their budget proposals, Schumer told reporters.
Pelosi, who told reporters she thought the Democrats had left things “in a pretty good place,” said she had asked Trump to pray to about resolving the dispute, recounting the biblical story of King Solomon asking God for wisdom.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told reporters, “I’d still like to see a smooth ending here and I haven’t given up hope that’s what we’ll have.”
‘IT’S CALLED TRANSPARENCY’
This rocky meeting was the first Trump held with Pelosi and Schumer since Democrats won control of the House in Nov. 6 elections, possibly foreshadowing battles to come next year.
The fight kicked off when Pelosi told Trump that Americans did not want to see a “Trump shutdown,” touching a nerve. Trump cut off Pelosi, arguing that he could not advance a funding bill without Democratic votes in the Senate.
“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session, it would be done,” Trump bragged.
“Well then – go do it, go do it,” Pelosi shot back.
Senior White House staff watched the melee from the edges of the room, among them Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, immigration adviser Stephen Miller and Shahira Knight, his legislative director.
“I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this,” Pelosi said.
“We’re doing this in a very friendly manner,” Trump said.
Then Schumer brought up “Pinocchios” that Trump had been awarded by the Washington Post for misstatements on the issue and accused him of wanting to get his own way.
“Let’s call a halt to this,” Pelosi said as the two went at it. “It’s not bad, Nancy – it’s called transparency,” Trump said.
When Pelosi brought up Republican election losses in the House, Trump retorted that his party won the Senate.
“When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble,” Schumer said to the astonished press capturing the back-and-forth.
Trump said that both sides agreed there was a need for border security.
“Yes, we do,” Schumer said.
“Good,” Trump said.
“We do,” Schumer said.
“See, we get along,” Trump said.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell Doina Chiacu, Amanda Becker, David Alexander, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; additional reporting by David Morgan; writing by Richard Cowan; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Cynthia Osterman