President wastes no time with obstructionist Democrats
President Trump walked out of shutdown negotiations with Democratic leaders Wednesday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to agree to any money for his border fence, ending the most contentious meeting yet in the 19-day-old government shutdown with no solution in sight.
The confrontation came in the highly secure Situation Room at the White House, where Mr. Trump had invited leaders of both parties to restart talks that have gone nowhere since Dec. 22. The impasse has prompted the president to threaten declaring a national emergency, an option that he said Wednesday he’s still considering.
The president walked into the Situation Room handing out candy, and asked Democratic leaders if they had any new proposals to resolve the impasse, according to those present.
It soon became clear that they didn’t.
With House Democrats moving bills to reopen individual federal agencies, Mr. Trump asked Mrs. Pelosi if she would approve his request of $5.7 billion for a border barrier within 30 days of his allowing the government to reopen.
“Will you agree to my wall?” the president asked.
“No,” she replied.
Mr. Trump stood up and said, “Then this is a waste of my time.” With that, he walked out.
“He just got up and said he had nothing to discuss,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “He couldn’t get his way, and he just walked out of the meeting.”
Mr. Trump said on Twitter, “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
While Democrats characterized Mr. Trump’s move as a “temper tantrum,” Republicans in the meeting said the president was calm but firm.
“When she said ‘no,’ he said good-bye,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters. “I think the president made his position very clear today.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Mr. Schumer “continued to raise his voice” as the meeting deteriorated. He called the Democrats’ behavior “embarrassing.”
Mrs. Pelosi, who spoke to reporters outside the White House as snow flurries began to fall, said the temperature in the Situation Room “was not much warmer” than outdoors.
“Our meeting did not last long,” she said.
The stormy negotiations were a contrast to the president’s visit an hour earlier to the Capitol, where followed up his address to the nation Tuesday night by meeting with Senate Republicans to make sure they were unified in supporting his demand for a border fence. At least three Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan M. Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado — have voiced support for reopening other federal agencies that aren’t related to Homeland Security.
Mrs. Murkowski and Mr. Gardner raised concerns with Mr. Trump about the shutdown, according to those present. Mrs. Murkowski spoke of the consequences of a shutdown extending beyond just the 800,000 federal employees who might not be getting paychecks this week.
“I shared my support for border security in the country and what we need to do from a humanitarian perspective, but a recognition that [in] a shutdown there are consequences and people are starting to feel those consequences,” she said. “He urged us to remain unified.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, said enough Republicans will stick together to hold out “as long as we need to.”
“An overwhelming majority of the caucus will stay together and that’s all we need,” he said. “It could be fixed tonight, but I think it’s going to last awhile.”
Mr. Trump emerged from the Senate luncheon saying that the Republican lawmakers were giving him “unwavering” support in his shutdown battle.
“There was no discussion about anything other than solidarity,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I would say we have a very, very unified party. They’re with us all the way. There was no reason for me even to be there. We want national security and border security for our country.”
Mr. Trump spoke for more than 30 minutes before addressing the shutdown, people in the room said, as he talked about his post-Christmas trip to Iraq and the military situation in Syria.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of his caucus, “We’re all behind the president.”
Mr. Trump will travel to the southern border Thursday at McAllen, Texas, to further highlight the need for border barriers to prevent illegal immigration, drug smuggling and human trafficking. He said he’s still weighing whether to declare a national emergency that would give him unilateral authority to build a border fence or wall.
“I may do that at some point,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he has an “absolute right” to do so.
“If they don’t agree to the fact that our country has really got problems with crime, with drugs, with a lot of other things that come through our southern border … I’ll tell you, it’s a very bad political issue for the Democrats.”
He said of the Democrats’ opposition to his signature 2016 campaign pledge of a border wall, “The only reason they’re against it is because I won the presidency. And they think they can try and hurt us going into . But that’s not going to happen. And we don’t give up.”
The president briefly addressed the electoral and political consequences if he abandoned his quest for border security measures.
“If I did something that was foolish, like gave up on border security, the first ones that would hit me would be my senators — they’d be angry at me,” he said. “The second ones would be the House. And the third ones would be frankly my base, and a lot of Republicans out there and a lot of Democrats that want to see border security.”
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.
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