President Trump told Democratic leaders Tuesday he would be “proud” to shut down the government if he doesn’t get the $5 billion in border wall funding he’s demanding in a year-end spending bill.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the likely next House speaker, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, Democrats’ leader in the upper chamber, implored Mr. Trump to take the conversation away from the reporters he’d invited into the Oval Office to observe the meeting.
But the president kept answering questions and sparring with the two Democrats — though he said it was constructive.
“It is not an easy situation,” Mr. Trump said in the meeting, also attended by Vice President Mike Pence. “We are on very opposite sides. I would not like to see a government closing, a shutdown.”
Moments later said he would embrace such a shutdown if it comes to that.
“Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other,” he said, telling Mr. Schumer he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”
The two Democratic leaders said if the government does close up some agencies before Christmas, it will lie on the president’s head.
“We cannot have a Trump shutdown,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
The president, though, pointed out the last significant shutdown came earlier this year because of Mr. Schumer, who led Democrats in forcing a shutdown over their demands to grant illegal immigrant “Dreamers” full citizenship rights.
After several days, Democrats got cold feet and retreated, without winning any concessions for Dreamers.
The Democratic leaders on Tuesday repeatedly accused Mr. Trump of bending the truth on his claims about border security and his intentions for the wall, and said their chief goal was to keep the government open, while denying him any additional money.
Mrs. Pelosi also pushed to throw reporters out of the meeting.
“I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this,” she told the president.
About a quarter of the government’s basic operations are running on stopgap funding that lasts through Dec. 21. Without a new agreement by then, funding would lapse for the commerce, justice, agriculture and homeland security departments, among others.
Mr. Trump says he’s willing to let that happen — sparking a partial government shutdown — unless he gets the border wall money he’s seeking.
Mrs. Pelosi repeatedly dared the president to put the border wall funding to a vote in the House, saying Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress.
“You have the White House, you have the Senate, you have the House of Representative — you have the votes,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
“The problem is the Senate,” Mr. Trump countered. “Nancy, I need 10 votes from Chuck.”
The House has passed a homeland security bill with that dollar amount included. Senators have written their own version that includes $1.6 billion.
After the meeting, Mr. Schumer said he offered the president two options to keep the government open by continuing homeland security in 2019 at the same level of funding it had in fiscal year 2018. That would mean $1.6 billion in border security money, with some restrictions on what it could be spent on.
The unprecedented on-camera squabbling played out in full view of the press pool, which Mr. Trump had invited into the meeting after it was initially scheduled as closed.
“Let’s debate in private,” Mr. Schumer pleaded.
Mrs. Pelosi later explained they didn’t want to embarrass the president by contradicting his facts in public.
Mr. Trump and the Democrats revisited the election results from the midterms, with the president pointing out that Republicans increased their Senate majority and the Democrats noting that they captured the House.
“Elections have consequences, Mr. President,” Mr. Schumer said.
“That’s right,” Mr. Trump replied. “That’s why the country is doing so well.”