An angry Donald Trump told Democratic leaders at the White House on Tuesday that he will shut down the US government because they refuse to approve billions of dollars in funding for his controversial Mexico border wall.
The president and top opposition congressional leaders had been meant to hold a reassuring Oval Office photo-op. Instead, their blazing row in front of the world’s media gave a glimpse of the dire challenges confronting Trump as he reels from legal scandals and the new reality of his Republican party no longer controlling Congress.
Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the still Republican-dominated Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to become speaker in the newly Democrat-controlled House in January, bluntly told Trump that he had no chance of getting the $5 billion he wants for the wall.
Exasperated, Trump doubled down on earlier threats to retaliate by refusing to sign a federal spending bill required by December 21 to avoid leaving swaths of the government without funding.
“Yes, if we don’t get what we want one way or the other…, I will shut down the government,” he said. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”
Schumer argued that “one thing that I think we can agree on is we shouldn’t shut down the government over a dispute.”
And Pelosi suggested that the debate shouldn’t take place in front of journalists.
But Trump, whose US-Mexico wall idea was at the center of his surprise 2016 election, could not control his irritation.
Taking out two memo cards, he read off figures that he said showed a near end to illegal immigration at portions of the border already featuring high fences.
“It’s been very effective,” he said.
Pelosi parried that the statistics were incorrect.
“What the president is representing (with) his cards over there, are not facts. We have to have an evidence-based conversation about what does work and what money has been spent and how effective it is,” Pelosi said.
Outside the White House afterwards, Schumer was even more scathing about Trump.
“This temper tantrum that he seems to throw will not get him his wall and it will hurt a lot of people,” he said.
Tweeting ahead of the White House meeting, Trump claimed that the wall was needed to prevent “large scale crime and disease” brought by illegal immigrants.
The issue is popular with his political base, which wants radically tighter controls at the southern border, a magnet for impoverished Latin Americans seeking work in the United States.
Opponents say the wall is not only a waste of money but has been used by the president to whip up xenophobia.
Trump, who leads chants of “build the wall” at campaign rallies, has been frustrated in the first two years of his administration. Now, as the government funding deadline approaches, both sides will have to decide whether to blink.