WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump openly fought with the top two Democratic lawmakers in the Oval Office on Tuesday about government funding, as disagreements over a U.S.-Mexico border wall prompted Trump repeatedly to threaten a late December government shutdown.
Trump’s demand for billions of dollars to build the southwest border wall threw into question whether a deal was possible ahead of a Dec. 21 deadline.
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 a wall that they see as ineffective and wasteful.
“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.
At the Pentagon, Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis said there were no plans now for the U.S. military to build sections of the wall. He added that under current law, however, the Defense Department could fund some border barrier projects “such as in support of counter-drug operations or national emergencies.”
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, and visitors would not be allowed into federal parks.
Trump has asked Congress for $5 billion for border security, while Schumer and Pelosi have 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.
Democrats want to bolster border security by fixing fences and using high-tech equipment to detect illegal crossings.
After the meeting, 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 told reporters she had asked Trump to pray about resolving the dispute, recounting the biblical story of King Solomon asking God for wisdom.
But the harsh words continued during a closed meeting of House Democrats. According to an aide in the room, Pelosi said Trump’s fixation with building a wall was “like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”
Despite the rancor, 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.”
Pelosi told reporters that later in the day that she and Trump spoke by telephone, and the president said he was reviewing the offer made by Democrats during the White House meeting.
‘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.
“I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this,” Pelosi said, adding, “Let’s call a halt to this.”
“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.
Trump said 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, Idrees Ali and Susan Heavey; additional reporting by David Morgan; writing by Richard Cowan; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Cynthia Osterman