Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Trump Threatens Shutdown In Wild Encounter With Democrats

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018.
Associated Press
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018.
Trump Threatens Shutdown In Wild Encounter With Democrats
Trump Threatens Shutdown In Wild Encounter With Democrats GUEST: Jennifer Haberkorn, reporter, Los Angeles Times

Congress and the president have until December 21st to come to an agreement on government spending or face a partial government shutdown. The prospect of an agreement seems to be a bit less likely after Tuesday's televised meeting between Democratic leaders and President Trump. The meeting was described by some as raucous ugly or trainwreck. It ended with the president putting his stamp on any potential government shutdown. If we don't get what we want one way or the other whether it's through you through a military or through anything you want to call I would shut down to go ahead and I am proud of it. I am proud to shut down the government for border security. Joining me is reporter Jennifer Haberkorn. She covers Congress in Washington D.C. for the Los Angeles Times. Jennifer welcome to the program. Thanks so much for having me. Can you give us a recap of what happened at that meeting. So it was rather unprecedented. I mean the president and congressional leaders meet all the time to discuss these kind of spending deals but it's rarely in front of television cameras. And it started off cordiale. The president welcomed Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer the top Democrats in Congress to the meeting but they quickly got into their disagreement which really comes down to whether the border wall should be funded. The president said that he absolutely needs it to be funded that border security is very important. Democrats quickly said that they disagree that there is no way that they're going to provide the votes for the funding of the border wall. And you know they got into political squabbles. You know Chuck Schumer at one point said that elections have consequences and if Trump's going to brag about winning in states like Indiana then he has nothing to really brag about. It was the rough partisan politics that laid bare for everybody to see how far apart are the two sides on the border wall. You know that's the thing they're not that far apart. There are basically three point four billion dollars apart which sounds like a lot of money. But in the grand scheme of the federal budget it's not that much. Democrats in the Senate have said that they're OK with one point six billion in border security. Trump wants 5 billion for his wall. So you know you could compromise somewhere in the middle. But that seems very unlikely. Democrats feel emboldened right now. They just won majority in the house in the midterm elections and they feel like they don't want to vote for this law and they're not going to help the president in any way possible. Republicans do need at least nine votes in the Senate from Democrats. And so they're really at loggerheads. Now Democrat Nancy Pelosi kept pointing out that President Trump was not using as she put it fact based or evidence based reasons for building the wall. Who do you think the president was aiming his message at during this very public display. You know I think part of it was his base. He won in 2016 in large part by promising the border wall. It was one of his most concrete campaign pledges that he would build to this wall along the U.S. Mexico border. In fact he said Mexico would pay for it. He said that's no longer part of the discussion. He wants Congress to pay for it but he was you know working toward his base and in the clip you played he said that he would be proud to shut down the government to get this it's that important to him. And so if there is a shutdown if the sides can't come together before December 21st the President needs the public has his base on his side to kind of fight through that time when the government could be shutdown. I should say a portion of the government would be shut down. You know what happens if the government or a portion of it is shut down. You know it's unlike prior shutdowns in that we're only talking about a portion of the government here the Department of Homeland Security but the government would keep some of those functions going forward because they're necessary and they would kind of backfill when the government reopens. It's unclear so far if national parks would be closed and no other major services seem to be impacted so far. You know we would not see the post office stop airports wouldn't stop. So you know it is different than prior shutdowns. You know when we've seen people not be able to go into national parks unveilings things like that that the effects could be limited which could make the politics around a shutdown a little different. Speaking of politics how could a government shutdown impact both parties Republican and Democrat. You know shutdowns definitely have impact and the lawmakers that I talked to on both sides don't want a shutdown. They feel like the politics are bad for everybody and in this case Republicans still control all of Congress and the White House. So it's fair to assume that the Republican it would take some of the blame. I think that's why we saw the president kind of come out ahead of this and and make the case for border security. If there is a shutdown but Republicans on Capitol Hill definitely don't want it to happen. They feel like it would be negative for them. And you know if the government does shut down December 22nd you know there's a lot of people who think that when Congress reconvenes on January 3rd when Democrats are in control of the house that Pelosi if she does become the speaker would immediately have House Democrats pass some kind of spending bill to show that they are the adults at the table and that they are the ones who can fund the government. So there are some people who think that you know Democrats could be the ones looking better in this scenario. Well both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were happy to speak with reporters after this odd meeting. The president though was reportedly upset after the meeting. Does this encounter give give you any indication about what the next two years may be like. So I think we had a great preview of what divided government could look like next year. Any legislation that Donald Trump wants to get through Congress is going to need the support of Nancy Pelosi assuming that she becomes speaker of the house. So he's going to have to deal with her. He's going to negotiate with her. You know Republicans still control the Senate. So they'll be dealing with Mitch McConnell who is not at yesterday's meeting but Chuck Schumer will be involved as well. And you know if that's the preview we had it's not promising for a lot of legislation getting done in the next year. And I have been speaking with reporter Jennifer Haberkorn who is in Washington D.C. in the press room right now. She's a reporter for The Los Angeles Times. Jennifer thank you. It's great to talk with you. Thank you.

In a wild Oval Office confrontation, President Donald Trump heatedly threatened to shut down the U.S. government Tuesday as he and Democratic leaders bickered over funding for his promised border wall and offered a grim preview of life in Washington the next two years under divided government.

Trump and House and Senate Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer squabbled for more than 15 minutes in the stunning, televised encounter. Each of them, especially Trump, interrupted the others to question facts, quibble over election results and lob insults.

Trump questioned Pelosi's ability to count votes in her own House. She questioned his manhood — after she left the building.


The public clash marked Trump's first meeting with the newly empowered Democrats since their midterm victories that put them in control of the House, laying bare the tensions on both sides and suggesting how divided government might work — or not — as the 2020 presidential election nears.

RELATED: Poll: Americans Want Trump To Compromise On Border Wall Amid Possible Shutdown

Neither the public nor the private face-to-face portion of the meeting appeared to resolve the wall-funding dispute with a partial shutdown looming on Dec. 21. However, Pelosi said Trump called her later in the afternoon and told her the White House was looking at options she and Schumer had laid out.

In the public debate, Trump sounded more determined than ever to allow a partial government shutdown unless he gets the billions he wants for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down," he declared.


Pelosi later crowed that she and Schumer had goaded the president to "fully own that the shutdown was his." She told Democratic lawmakers back at the Capitol, according to an aide who was in the room, that the wall was "like a manhood thing for him ... as if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing."

The aide was not authorized to speak publicly and commented only on condition of anonymity.

While Trump has suggested he may be willing to trade with Democrats and has publicly praised Pelosi, he was focused Tuesday on reinforcing his hardline immigration promises, repeatedly stressing border security and the wall as a critical part. Democrats were in no mood to sympathize, emphasizing their newfound political strength.

"Elections have consequences, Mr. President," said Schumer.

Trump later called it a "friendly meeting," saying "I've actually liked them for a long period of time and I respect them both. And we made a lot of progress." The Democrats said they had given Trump two options to keep government open and the responsibility lay with him and Republicans who control Congress.

The wall remains the main sticking point in talks. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged Tuesday that the GOP-led House has yet to pass legislation that includes the $5 billion in border wall funds that Trump has been requesting. Ryan likely lacks sufficient votes from Republicans who will lose their majority at the end of the month.

Trump is seeking far more for his long-stalled border wall than the $1.6 billion the Senate has agreed to for border security, including physical barriers and technology along the U.S. southern border.

Should the two sides not make a deal by Dec. 21, about three-quarters of the government would continue to have enough money to operate. But departments affected absent a deal include Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks.

Both sides came into the negotiating session primed for battle. After a few niceties, Trump dug into Democrats on the border wall, prompting a stern rebuke from Schumer that the issue at hand was "called funding the government." Trump soon started scrapping with Pelosi, when she said there should not be a "Trump shutdown."

"Did you say Trump?" the president said, as the two argued over whether Trump had enough Republican votes in the House to support his border wall plan.

"The fact is that you do not have the votes in the House," Pelosi declared.

Trump shot back, "Nancy, I do."

Also in a fighting mood, Schumer accused Trump of threatening a shutdown "because you can't get your way."

Trump heckled Schumer over a previous shutdown, saying "the last time you shut it down you got killed" politically.

Pelosi and Schumer both repeatedly asked to make the conversation private, without success, as Trump argued that the public meeting was a good thing: "It's called transparency."

Trump repeatedly returned to his argument that the border wall is needed for security reasons. He also argued that "tremendous" portions of the wall have already been built. In fact, some barrier renovation has happened, but little wall construction has been completed under Trump.

If Democrats refuse to support the wall, the military will build the remaining sections, Trump said. "The wall will get built," he insisted.

Hours after the meeting ended, a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement that "there is no plan" for the military to build sections of a border wall. But Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis added that the military may have the power to fund "barrier projects" in national emergencies or to counter the drug trade.

Pence, a former House member, sat silently as Trump and the two Democrats bickered. He later called the meeting a "good discussion." Asked to describe the atmosphere in the private meeting that followed the public quarrel, Pence said, "candid."

Pelosi and Schumer have urged Trump to support a measure that includes a half-dozen government funding bills largely agreed upon by lawmakers, along with a separate measure that would fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The homeland bill includes about $1.3 billion for fencing and other security measures at the border.

If Trump rejects that, Democrats are urging a continuing resolution that would fund all the remaining appropriations bills at current levels through Sept. 30.

"We gave the president two options that would keep the government open," Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement after the meeting. "It's his choice to accept one of those options or shut the government down."

Pelosi, who is seeking to become House speaker when the new Congress convenes in January, said she and many other Democrats consider the wall "immoral, ineffective and expensive." She noted that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, an idea Mexico has repeatedly rejected.

In fact, Trump declared during the presidential campaign two years ago, "That wall will go up so fast your head will spin."

Pelosi's willingness to stand up to Trump won praise from Democrats. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California told CNN that she "may have sealed her speakership by going toe-to-toe with the president."

Despite the rancor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hadn't given up hope that a shutdown can be averted. The Kentucky Republican said "magic" sometimes happens in Congress ahead of Christmas, when lawmakers are eager to leave Washington.

"I'd like to see a smooth ending here," McConnell said at the Capitol.