- - Thursday, December 13, 2018


Their meeting with President Trump was not what Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi expected. The leader of the Democrats in the Senate and the leader of the Democrats in the House went to the White House for what they thought would be the usual meeting behind closed doors. The federal budget would soon expire, and unless a new one is adopted the government, or most of it, would expire at midnight Dec. 21. The idea of the White House meeting was to work something out.

When the meeting began the president invited the cameras in. He started debating the particulars of policy at once, with everything broadcast live. What followed was an extraordinary impromptu televised debate between the president and his two partisan opponents.

Chuck and Nancy weren’t happy. They told the president several times to ask the cameras to leave, but for nearly a quarter of an hour the president refused. “It’s called transparency,” he said. The vice president did not look particularly pleased to have them there, either. Mike Pence kept his silence throughout the lively exchange.

The two Democratic guests had a point; such meetings have always been closed because confidential conversations are usually exchanges with the bark on, the way agreements are usually reached. Sometimes important decisions are reached that might not have been reached in public. The president was making a point, and one of the perks of the president is that the biggest man in the room gets to control the conversation. Besides, watching was great fun.

The people watching from home could see clearly why Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer would rather the debate have been conducted in private. Their position on securing the border and reducing illegal immigration, the issue that catapulted Mr. Trump from Trump Tower to the White House, is, not to put too fine a point on it, deeply unpopular.

Democratic leaders are obstinate in their opposition to President Trump’s border wall. Open borders is key to recruiting Democratic voters from the ranks of the illegals. Mr. Trump wants $5 billion to spend on building the wall and Democrats are willing to spend only $1.6 billion for border security, with not a dime of it to be spent on the actual wall. They would authorize spending only on things like fencing, which is far less effective than a wall to keep illegal migrants out. Walls work, as the experience of Israel and some other nations demonstrates. Democrats don’t oppose a wall because it doesn’t work, but because it does.

The president said repeatedly that he wants the money for his wall, or he will allow a government shut down. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” he told the senator. “People in this country don’t want criminals and people with lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it. The last time, you shut it down. It didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting it down [this time].”

The extraordinary meeting ended at an impasse, with neither side willing to concede. A born showman, Mr. Trump may have won the day on charisma alone. Ms. Pelosi, who spluttered through parts of the meeting, later had remarkably rude things to say to her party caucus. The wall is “like a manhood thing for [the president]. As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

Now a shutdown appears more likely than it did before the White House slugfest, with the Democrats dug in on their opposition to giving an inch on the wall, and the president digging in in defense of his signature issue. The only thing obvious is that the public got to see how the government works — and doesn’t work.

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