An Oval Office meeting on whether to include funding for President Donald Trump's border wall in an upcoming congressional budget bill erupted into a tense exchange between Trump and Democrats Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The meeting is the first between the three leaders since the midterm elections, and both Pelosi and Schumer were eager to gloat about the Democrats' November electoral victories.
But Trump had priorities of his own, pressing the pair of Democrats on whether they'd be willing to part with the $5 billion the White House has requested to begin building a massive wall along the United States-Mexico border.
“We have the easy one, the wall,” Trump said. “That will be the one that will be the easiest of all. What do you think, Chuck?
At first Pelosi shied away, suggesting that the three leaders shouldn't have a debate in front of the press, apparently unprepared to discuss the central issue of President Trump's budget proposal.
President Trump engages in an Oval Office clash with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi over border security as the shutdown deadline looms— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 11, 2018
Pelosi: "I don't think we should have a debate in front of the press on this" pic.twitter.com/gopvtJKpXO
But then, the two Democrats doubled down, threatening a stalemate — that would lead to a shutdown — if the president refused to concede.
"We do not want to shut down the government. You have called twenty times to shut down the government. ... We don't," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says to President Trump pic.twitter.com/O5uMHzHgn1— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 11, 2018
Pelosi eventually threatened her own "Trump shutdown” if the president didn't back down on his request, to which the president tersely replied, "If we don't get what we want, I will shut down the government ... I am proud to shut down the government for border security."
President Trump: "I am proud to shut down the government for border security" pic.twitter.com/phEU5AvkAe— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 11, 2018
“I will take the mantle,” Trump added. “I will be the one to shut it down. And I’m gonna shut it down for border security.”
The three continued to stare each other down for a few seconds before Pelosi haughtily announced that Trump "will not win."
Grabien News has a full, albeit rushed, transcript of the tensest part of the exchange:
PELOSI: "Let's call a halt to this. We have come in here with the first branch of government. Article one. The legislative branch. We are coming in good faith to negotiate with you about how we can keep the government open."
TRUMP: "We are going to keep it open if we have border security. If we don't have border security, Chuck, we are not going to keep it open."
PELOSI: "We will have border security."
SCHUMER: "You are bragging about what has been done. We want to do the same thing we did last year this year. That's our proposal if it's good then, it's good now and it won't shut down the government."
TRUMP: "We're can build more."
SCHUMER: "Let's debate in private.
TRUMP: "We need border security."
SCHUMER: "Yes, we do."
TRUMP: "See, we get along. Thank you, everybody."
REPORTER: “You say border security and the wall. Can you have border security without the wall?"
TRUMP: "You need the wall. The wall is a part of border security."
Both Schumer and Pelosi appeared on the White House lawn for a press conference following the meeting. Rather than admitting that the pair had been unprepared for the meeting and outsmarted by the president, Pelosi claimed she and Schumer didn't want to "insult" Trump to his face with cameras rolling.
“I hear the reporters or Fox reporters saying why did we not want transparency in this discussion,” she said. “We don't want to contradict the president when he was putting forth figures that had no reality to them, no basis in fact. We had to if we are going to proceed in all of this have evidence-based factual, truthful information about what works and what doesn't. I didn't want to in front of those people say you don't know what you are talking about."
This debate will only get more contentious as the White House and Congress near the December 21st deadline for a continuing resolution on the federal budget. Neither side seems willing to give concessions on the subject of the border wall, so it's unlikely there will be an acceptable compromise floated within the next two weeks.
What is clear is that Trump believes he has the upper hand — and popular support — in pushing for more funding for his border wall, and Democrats seem to agree.