By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump openly fought with the top two Democratic lawmakers at an Oval Office meeting 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 bickered 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 near a close.
“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 the room.
Congress is seeking to finalise spending before some federal government funding expires on Dec. 21. While Trump’s fellow Republicans control both the House and the Senate until next month, Democratic support is needed to pass any spending legislation.
Trump has asked for $5 billion, while Schumer and Pelosi were expected to offer just $1.3 billion for border security in a package to extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security until Sept. 30. That is less than the $1.6 billion a bipartisan Senate committee has approved.
It was the first time Trump met with Pelosi and Schumer since the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in Nov. 6 congressional elections – a rocky start to the relationship the White House will have with the opposition party, with which it needs to deal to advance any priorities.
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.
“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, as Vice President Mike Pence sat beside him, silent and stony-faced.
Senior White House staff watched the melee from the corners 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.
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 New Yorkers 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 quickly 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.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Phil Berlowitz)