Trump meeting with Pelosi and Schumer descends into chaos as president threatens to shut government over border

President accused of having a 'temper tantrum'

Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 11 December 2018 18:24 GMT
Donald Trump's meeting with top Democrats descends into chaos in the Oval Office

An Oval Office meeting between Donald Trump and senior Democrats rapidly escalated into anger and disagreement after the president threatened to shut the government if he did not receive funding for a border wall.

In dramatic scenes that may have been partly staged to appeal to their respective supporters, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer repeatedly clashed with Mr Trump over his insistence that border security could only be guaranteed by building such a wall. He has asked for $5bn to construct it.

“I will be the one to shut [the government] down,” said Mr Trump, as vice president Mike Pence sat in silence and watched the encounter. “I’m proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Such scenes in the Oval Office have rarely been seen by the US public. When Ms Pelosi appeared to protest about the in-front-of-the-cameras nature of the spat, Mr Trump said: “It’s called transparency.”

But with Mr Trump having invited the media to witness the meeting, it is likely that all the participants understood in advance what might transpire.

Mr Trump, desperate to secure funding for a wall, is trying to make a breakthrough before Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in the new year. He also knows few issues are more popular with his base than a hardline approach to immigration.

At the same time, while it now seems likely Ms Pelosi will become the next speaker of the House, the 78-year-old has faced questions about her leadership, even though an actual challenger has not yet emerged. Ms Pelosi is very aware that the new congress will include a number of young, progressive members who want her to take a tough line with the president.

The heated comments, and the equally stark body language, came after the president demanded $5bn in congressional funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border. He has said he will refuse to agree a spending deal with Democrats unless he gets the money.

Mr Trump tweeted earlier: “If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our country, the military will build the remaining sections of the wall. They know how important it is.”

Mr Schumer said to Mr Trump: “You say ‘my way or we’ll shut down the government’.” Mr Trump responded by saying border security was necessary, and that a wall was essential for such security, a claim that Democrats and many independent experts dispute.

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“Yes, if we don’t get what we want ... I will shut down the government,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Schumer then said: “We do not want to shut down the government.”

Ms Pelosi told the president: “You will not win.”

Congress is seeking to finalise spending before some federal government funding expires on 21 December. Reuters said while Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans control both the House and the Senate until next month, Democratic support is needed to pass any spending legislation.

Republican congressional leaders have repeatedly said it is up to Mr Trump to cut a deal with Democrats, an acknowledgement of their inability to produce spending bills with Republican votes alone.

Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer have urged Mr Trump to support a bill that includes half a dozen government funding bills largely agreed upon by politicians, along with a separate measure that funds the Department of Homeland Security at current levels until next September. The homeland bill includes about $1.3bn for fencing and other security measures at the border.

“We do not want to let a Trump temper tantrum govern our policies or cause the shutdown of a government, which everyone on both sides of the aisle knows is the wrong idea,” Mr Schumer later told reporters.

Asked what advice she had given the president, Ms Pelosi said: “I asked him to pray over it.”

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