President Donald Trump on Wednesday walked out of a meeting in the situation room with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to discuss the partial government shutdown that has now lasted 19 days.
Trump posted about the meeting on Twitter, calling it a “total waste of time.” The Democratic leaders had begun by stressing the need to reopen the government.
“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,” the president tweeted.
Trump has made his proposed border wall the sole focus of the shutdown: Unless he can secure some $5 billion for the project, he will not agree to any budget proposal that would fully reopen the government.
He continued: “I said bye-bye, nothing else works.”
Schumer confirmed Trump’s version of events, telling reporters gathered in front of the White House, “Well, unfortunately the president just got up and walked out” after Pelosi said she would not agree to funding for the wall.
“He just got up and he said, ‘Then we have nothing to discuss.’ And he just walked out. Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Schumer said.
According to a source familiar with the meeting, the Senate minority leader had confronted Trump in the situation room about the human cost of the partial shutdown, which has left some federal employees with diminishing means to pay for basic necessities.
“You’re using people as leverage. Why won’t you open the government and stop hurting people?” Schumer said.
According to the source, Trump replied: “Because then you won’t give me what I want.”
Outside the White House, Pelosi echoed Schumer’s message, telling reporters that she did not believe Trump fully appreciated the financial impact on the federal workers who have been showing up to work without getting paid, or who have not been able to work at all since the shutdown began just before Christmas.
“The president seems to be insensitive to that. He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money,” Pelosi said. “But they can’t.”
“If you don’t understand financial insecurity, then you would have a policy that takes pride in saying, ‘I’m going to keep the government shut down for months or years unless you totally agree to my position,’” she said.
Asked whether the president acted out of anger, as alleged by Schumer, Vice President Mike Pence said he remembered Trump behaving calmly.
“The president walked into the room and passed out candy. I don’t recall him ever raising his voice or slamming his hand,” Pence said.
The vice president told reporters that the Democratic leaders also objected to Trump’s characterization of the situation at the southern border, which Pence referred to as “a humanitarian and security crisis.” Pelosi, Pence said, “began to argue whether we even had a crisis or whether facts are true.”
The Trump administration ― including the vice president ― has invited sharp criticism this week for its numerous misleading claims about what is happening on the U.S. border with Mexico to justify the proposed wall. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed in a Sunday interview on “Fox News Sunday” that 4,000 “known or suspected terrorists” had come into the U.S. illegally, prompting host Chris Wallace to fact-check her; the figure stemmed from people captured at airports. Pence cited the same misleading statistic in a Tuesday morning interview with “Good Morning America.”
In his Tuesday evening address to the nation, Trump repeated many of the same lies and half-truths he has long told in regard to the wall, falsely claiming that Democrats want “open borders” and painting the migrants arriving at the border to seek asylum as dangerous criminals.
Hayley Miller contributed reporting. This has been updated throughout.