With funding for parts of the federal government set to expire on December 21, nobody expected Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer would yield much progress toward averting a partial shutdown — but neither did anyone expect that what was supposed to be a private meeting would turn into a very public clash of the sort that can set the hearts of television news producers racing.
In front of reporters and live television cameras, the discussion between Trump, Pelosi and Schumer devolved into an extraordinary, 17-minute public sparring match, with the two sides trading jabs about the midterm elections results while holding firm to their positions on funding for a border wall with Mexico.
While the Democrats asked for the discussion to continue in private and said that the government shouldn’t shut down over the wall dispute, Trump seemed to relish the public altercation — “It’s not bad, Nancy; it’s called transparency,” he said at one point — and said he would be “proud” to have a shutdown over border security. “I will be the one to shut it down,” he said.
Trump wants $5 billion for the wall in 2019, and House Republicans support his demand. The Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security and have backed away from a previous $1.6 billion offer. They insist that a wall would be ineffective and a waste of money. With 10 days left before the shutdown deadline, here’s what Tuesday’s meeting means:
Democrats got just what they wanted: Egged on by Schumer and Pelosi, who referred to a “Trump shutdown,” the president publicly took ownership of any shutdown over the border wall. “Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other — whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call – I will shut down the government, absolutely,” he said. “And I am proud — I’ll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.” Expect this video to be replayed often if a shutdown happens. “Christmas sure came early for Democrats,” writes The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin.
And they say avoiding a shutdown is up to Trump: Democratic leaders say they’ve given Trump a couple of ways to keep the government open, either by passing the six outstanding appropriations bills that lawmakers have agreed on and extending Homeland Security funding for a full year at current levels, or by passing full-year extensions for all seven remaining spending bills. “It’s his choice to accept one of those options or shut the government down,” Schumer said afterward. If the government does shut down, the Democratic leaders said they will vote to reopen it — and keep border security funded at current levels — once they take control of the House next month.
Tuesday’s battle might actually be a good start: "These types of meetings, these types of break downs, these types of very public impasses need to occur before people settle down and actually start trying to make a deal," CNN’s Phil Mattingly said. And PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins suggested that the contentious public meeting makes a shutdown less likely, since both sides came across as fighting for their position. “Each side got the base points they wanted, big time, right there.”
But the two sides really are nowhere: The White House characterized the meeting as a “constructive dialogue” — no, really — but acknowledged that "Major disagreement remains on the issue of border security and transparency." Democrats have no incentive to give in, so the question is whether Trump will. Oh, and Politico notes that the House will be out of session on Monday and Tuesday, leaving just three working days next week to prevent a shutdown.
The public doesn’t want a shutdown — but Republican voters are geared up for a fight: A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll finds that, by a 57 percent to 36 percent margin, Americans think Trump should compromise on the wall to avoid a shutdown. And nearly 70 percent of Americans say they don’t think the wall should be an immediate priority for Congress. But Trump might be more focused on what his base thinks — and Republicans overwhelmingly (65 percent to 29 percent) say Trump should not compromise, even if it means a shutdown. Republican lawmakers, though, are far less interested in a shutdown fight. Asked if he had seen the exchange on television, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), reportedly said, “I did, unfortunately. I wish I didn’t.”
Welcome to divided government: Tuesday’s wild meeting and personal sniping may have been a preview of D.C. power dynamics over the next two years, as Trump and Democrats play to their respective bases ahead of the 2020 campaign. The problem, Politico’s Playbook team says: “Conversations between Pelosi, Schumer and Trump are not really going to be terribly useful since they can't even agree to stick to a basic set of facts.”