WASHINGTON, January 9, 2019 — The latest attempt at bringing an end to the 19-day government shutdown sputtered to a halt Wednesday afternoon in the same way the shutdown itself began: A fit of presidential pique.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., emerged from the West Wing with her leadership team after only a few minutes of a planned negotiating session between both parties’ congressional leadership, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
“It’s cold out here and the temperature isn’t much warmer than in the situation room — our meeting did not last long,” she said.
Pelosi, flanked by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., expressed disappointment that federal workers would soon pass their first payday without a paycheck.
“It’s tragic in terms of their credit rating, paying their mortgage, paying their rent, paying their car payment, paying their children’s tuition, and the rest,” Pelosi continued. “The president seems to be insensitive to that, he thinks maybe they can just as their father for more money, but they can’t.”
Schumer told reporters that the president exhibited another “temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way.”
“Unfortunately, the president just got up and walked out,” Schumer said.
Trump, Schumer said, told the Democratic leadership team that wouldn’t support reopening the government because if he allowed the government to reopen, Democrats would not do what he wants, and walked out of the meeting after Pelosi would not agree to support funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
“That’s cruel, that’s callous, and that’s using millions of innocent people as…pawns,” he said, adding that Democratic counter-proposals have sat on the president’s desk for several weeks. “This was really unfortunate, and in my judgement somewhat unbecoming of the presidency.”
‘Total waste of time’
As Schumer spoke, the president weighed in on his twitter account by calling the meeting “a total waste of time.”
“Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. 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!” Trump tweeted.
Pelosi added that one of the obstacles standing in the way of an equitable agreement is a “stipulation of fact” and noted that what Trump has called a “humanitarian crisis” — the large numbers of people requesting asylum in the southwest border region — would not be solved by a wall or physical barrier.
Mike Pence steps up to the microphone
After Pelosi and her colleagues departed the White House grounds, Vice President Mike Pence stepped up to the same bank of microphones to rebut the Democrats’ characterization of the short meeting, calling them “unwilling to negotiate to resolve this partial government shutdown or address the crisis at our southern border.”
While Schumer cast Trump’s decision to walk away from the table as a “tantrum,” Pence attempted to characterize the Democrats as the ones who were unreasonable, based on their demand that the president agree to reopen the government.
Trump “asked [Pelosi] if…she would agree to funding for a wall or a barrier on the southern border,” Pence said, adding that when Pelosi said no, “the president said goodbye.”
“I know there are millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of federal workers that are as disappointed as we are that the Democrats are unwilling to engage in good-faith negotiations,” Pence added. “What the president made clear today is that he is going to stand firm to achieve his priorities to build a wall, a steel barrier, on our southern border.”
Also disputing Pelosi and Schumer’s account of events was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who suggested cameras should be brought into future negotiating sessions. Both Wednesday’s meeting and the two preceding ones were held in the White House situation room, which is off-limits to the press.
The last time Trump, Pelosi and Schumer were in a room with television cameras was in December, during the contentious Oval Office meeting at which the president declared that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over border security.
According to McCarthy, Trump opened the meeting by ceding the floor to Pelosi, who “began to argue over whether we have a crisis or whether the facts are true.”
He said Trump asked Pelosi if she’d support his proposed border wall if he allowed the government to reopen on a 30-day continuing resolution, but ended the meeting after she said Democrats would still not support a border wall.
Trump “wants to solve the problem” while Democrats “just want to argue,” McCarthy added before claiming that Democrats had put forth no counter-proposals.
Support for bi-partisan appropriations bills by Democrats
In fact, the Democratic-led House and the Senate Democratic Caucus have consistently supported the Republican-authored appropriations bills which the Senate passed unanimously before Christmas. The Senate-passed bills died after then-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., refused to bring that legislation to the House floor without permission from Trump, who withdrew his support for the funding compromise after being scolded by conservative talk radio hosts and Fox News personalities.
Returning to the microphone to answer reporters’ questions, Pence backed up McCarthy’s account of the meeting and called Pelosi’s refusal to pledge support for Trump’s wall “evidence that Democrats have no interest right now in trying to solve this problem.”
“They clearly want the political issue,” Pence said. “We’ve been working in good faith over the last three weeks to solve not just this partial government shutdown, but to address what is an undeniable crisis at our southern border.”
Pence did not respond to a question on how a “good faith” negotiation over border security can take place with funding for the rest of the government held up as leverage.