In rare on-camera clash, Trump, top Democrats feud over border wall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump openly fought with the top two Democratic lawmakers in the Oval Office on Tuesday about government funding, throwing into question whether a deal was possible ahead of a deadline later this month.

In a remarkable public argument, the likes of which is seldom seen before cameras, Trump brawled with U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi about funding for the wall he has promised to build on the southern border with Mexico.

"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," Trump said as the heated argument drew to a crescendo.

"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," he said before reporters left their ringside seats.

Vice President Mike Pence sat beside Trump, silent and stone faced.

Congress is seeking to finalize spending before some federal government funding expires on Dec. 21. While Trump's fellow Republicans control both the House and the Senate until next month, Democratic support is needed to pass any spending legislation.

Trump has asked Congress for $5 billion for border security, while Schumer and Pelosi said they offered to extend funding at current levels, around $1.3 billion. That is less than the $1.6 billion a bipartisan Senate committee has approved.

The meeting did not last long after reporters were ushered out of the Oval Office. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement it was a "constructive dialogue" and said Trump was "grateful" the cameras captured him fighting to protect the border.

Back on Capitol Hill, Schumer accused Trump of throwing a tantrum. But he said Trump told the Democrats he would consider their budget proposals, Schumer told reporters.

Pelosi, who told reporters she thought the Democrats had left things "in a pretty good place," said she had prayed with Trump during the private portion of the meeting, recounting the biblical story of King Solomon asking God for wisdom.

After the meeting, the Democratic House fundraising arm immediately sent out an email asking supporters for money.

'IT'S CALLED TRANSPARENCY'

It was the first time Trump met with Pelosi and Schumer since the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in Nov. 6 congressional elections - a rocky start to the relationship the White House will have with the opposition party, with which it needs to deal to advance any priorities.

The fight kicked off when Pelosi told Trump that Americans did not want to see a "Trump shutdown," touching a nerve. Trump cut off Pelosi, arguing that he could not advance a funding bill without Democratic votes in the Senate.

"If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session, it would be done," Trump bragged.

"Well then - go do it, go do it," Pelosi shot back.

Senior White House staff watched the melee from the corners of the room, among them Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, immigration adviser Stephen Miller and Shahira Knight, his legislative director.

"I don't think we should have a debate in front of the press on this," Pelosi said.

"We're doing this in a very friendly manner," Trump said.

Then Schumer brought up "Pinocchios" that Trump had been awarded by the Washington Post for misstatements on the issue and accused him of wanting to get his own way.

"Let's call a halt to this," Pelosi said as the two went at it. "It's not bad, Nancy - it's called transparency," Trump said.

When Pelosi brought up Republican election losses in the House, Trump quickly retorted that his party won the Senate.

"When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble," Schumer said to the astonished press capturing the back-and-forth.

Trump said that both sides agreed there was a need for border security.

"Yes, we do," Schumer said.

"Good," Trump said.

"We do," Schumer said.

"See, we get along," Trump said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell Doina Chiacu, Amanda Becker, David Alexander, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Cynthia Osterman)

12/11/2018 15:19

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