President Trump on Tuesday vowed to block full funding for the government if Democrats refuse his demand for a border wall, saying he was “proud to shut down the government for border security” — an extraordinary statement that came during a televised altercation with Democratic congressional leaders.
“If we don’t have border security, we’ll shut down the government — this country needs border security,” Mr. Trump declared in the Oval Office, engaging in a testy back-and forth with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.
“I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” Mr. Trump added, insisting on a public airing of hostilities even as the Democrats repeatedly asked him to keep their negotiating disputes private.
“It’s not bad, Nancy; it’s called transparency,” Mr. Trump snapped after one such interjection by Ms. Pelosi, who appeared to trigger the president’s temper when she raised the prospect of a “Trump shutdown” over what she characterized as an ineffective and wasteful wall.
.. “The American people recognize that we must keep the government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that we should not have a Trump shutdown,” Ms. Pelosi said.
“A what?” Mr. Trump shot back.
.. It also showcased the interplay of two politicians playing to very different bases: Mr. Trump appealing to his core anti-immigration supporters and Ms. Pelosi to the young liberal lawmakers she needs to keep in her camp ahead of next month’s speaker election.
Outside the West Wing after the meeting Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump had thrown a “temper tantrum” over the wall, saying: “The president made clear that he wants a shutdown.”
.. Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi said it was up to Mr. Trump to avert the disaster he had promised, by embracing their proposals to essentially postpone the dispute for another year, either by passing the six noncontroversial budget measures that are outstanding and extending Homeland Security funding for one year at current levels, or passing one-year extensions for all seven remaining spending bills.
“We gave the president two options that would keep the government open,” they said in a statement. “It’s his choice to accept one of those options or shut the government down.”
Mr. Trump had begun the day appearing to soften his stance somewhat on the wall. In a series of morning tweets, he falsely stated that substantial sections of the “Great Wall” on the southwestern border that he has long championed have already been completed, and he suggested that his administration could continue construction whether Democrats fund it or not.
That would be illegal, but it suggested that he was looking for a way to keep the government funded past Dec. 21, even if Democrats balk at wall funding.
It quickly grew personal for Mr. Trump, who aides say respects what he sees as Ms. Pelosi’s strength as a negotiator and toughness in the political trenches, but who sought on Tuesday to publicly undercut her position by raising questions about her job security.
.. Mr. Trump’s approach to Mr. Schumer was initially friendly, but it soon turned sour...
“It is called funding the government, Mr. President,” a stern-faced Mr. Schumer said, going on to point out that Mr. Trump had made false statements about the effectiveness of the wall and how much of it had been built.
.. a brief shutdown in January when Democrats insisted that protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children must be part of any funding measure. “The last time that you did, you got killed.”
.. The president has suggested, repeatedly, that a shutdown might be necessary to compel Democrats to swallow $5 billion in wall funding. But on Tuesday morning before the meeting, he had appeared to be softening his stance.
.. the administration has yet to spend much of the $1.3 billion Congress approved for border security last year.
.. Under restrictions put in place by Congress, none of that money could be used to construct a new, concrete wall of the sort the president has said is vital.
The president does not have the legal authority to spend money appropriated for one purpose on another task, such as wall-building.
.. The president’s conservative allies in Congress have urged Mr. Trump to hold firm to his insistence on wall money, and use all means necessary to include additional immigration restrictions in the year-end package.
.. “Securing the border isn’t going to happen in a Pelosi-run Congress,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the co-founder and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said in an op-ed Tuesday on the Fox News website. “We still have three weeks. That’s more than enough time to do what we said.”
A question running alongside Donald Trump’s political career is whether he will ever pay a price for his verbal insults.
It was widely thought Mr. Trump might have damaged himself fatally when in mid-2015 he said of John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Even now, Mr. Trump’s verbal smackdowns come so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up. As far back as I can remember—about a week or so—objects of Mr. Trump’s ire have included
- the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the
- special counsel who is investigating him, and
- the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
- The attacks on “fake news” roll in and out like the weather.
Mr. Trump did the news conference primarily to offer his analysis of the midterm election results, which the president described as “very close to complete victory.”
.. It eventually became clear that what Mr. Trump meant by close to complete victory was the results in races with candidates for whom he personally campaigned—such as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Indiana—rather than the election outcome for Republicans more generally.
.. “And Barbara Comstock was another one. I mean, I think she could have won that race, but she didn’t want to have any embrace. For that, I don’t blame her. But she lost. Substantially lost. Peter Roskam didn’t want the embrace. Erik Paulsen didn’t want the embrace.”
This is unprecedented. Politics ain’t beanbag, but no president has ever ridiculed the losing members of his own party. No one in politics mocks a defeated election opponent.
.. This moment could cost Mr. Trump in the next two years. The Republicans Mr. Trump hung out to dry in that news conference have friends in Congress and across Washington, and it’s not likely they are going to forget this.
.. Every U.S. presidency at some point comes under intense political pressure. Some break, like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon. But until then, all could count for their survival on the political and personal loyalty of members of their party or the people who worked for them.
Who with political power that matters will Donald Trump call on when his darkest hour arrives? Many will lift a finger, but how high?
Mr. Trump has proven his resiliency. But that news conference was an odd moment, kicking fallen Republicans while associating himself with the tender mercies of Nancy Pelosi. Washington, he may find, can quickly become a lonely place.