Negotiations over a bipartisan infrastructure package meant to overhaul the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and waterways collapsed suddenly on Wednesday after President Donald Trump walked out of a previously scheduled meeting with top congressional Democrats at the White House.
Democrats waited about 15 minutes for Trump. Once he arrived, he spoke for about three minutes before leaving the room. In a press conference at the White House Rose Garden just afterward, Trump said he would not deal with Democrats on infrastructure matters until they ceased investigations of his administration following special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
In the press conference, Trump stood behind a sign reading “no collusion, no obstruction” and argued he’s “the most transparent president in history.”
“This meeting was set up a number of days ago ... all of a sudden I hear last night they’re going to have a meeting right before this meeting to talk about the I-word,” Trump said, referring “impeachment,” not “infrastructure.”
Pelosi did call a meeting Wednesday morning to brief her caucus on the various efforts to oversee Trump’s administration. House Democrats have reportedly pushed the speaker to begin impeachment proceedings, with more and more speaking out publicly about the need to hold Trump accountable.
That apparently upset Trump, who refused to discuss infrastructure with Democratic leaders just before his press conference.
According to a source familiar with the meeting, Trump walked into the room, did not shake anyone’s hand or sit in his seat, and said talks over infrastructure, trade and farm assistance would have to wait until congressional investigations are done. He then walked out without acknowledging anyone in the room.
“He just took a pass,” Pelosi told reporters, surmising Trump left the room because of “a lack of confidence on his part.”
“I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America,” she added.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, said Trump’s behavior during their meeting would “make your jaw drop.” He described the president greeting lawmakers with curtains closed in the room, accusing the White House of orchestrating a pre-planned stunt.
It’s clear this was not a spontaneous move on the president’s part; it was planned. Sen. Chuck Schumer on Trump's actions during his meeting with lawmakers
“It’s clear this was not a spontaneous move on the president’s part; it was planned,” Schumer said of Trump’s dismissal of infrastructure talk. “When we got in the room, the curtains were closed, there was a place for him to stand to say why he wouldn’t do infrastructure, then he went to the press with pre-made signs.”
Trump has criticized Democrats for continuing their inquiries around Mueller’s investigation. He also engaged in a public battle this week with GOP Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), who accused the president of engaging in “impeachable conduct.”
“They would have loved to have said we colluded. ... These people were out to get us,” Trump said of the Mueller probe. “This was a one-sided, horrible thing. The bottom line is they said there’s no collusion, no collusion with Russia.”
Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation did not find enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller’s report says it “uncovered evidence of numerous links (i.e., contacts) between Trump Campaign officials and individuals having or claiming to have ties to the Russian government,” but that the links were not “sufficient to establish or sustain criminal charges.”
Although Mueller declined to make a formal determination on whether Trump obstructed justice, he laid out 10 instances of potential obstruction by Trump, and the report explicitly states that it “does not exonerate” Trump.
″[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice,” the report says, “we would so state.”
Ryan Reilly and Sebastian Murdock contributed reporting.