I’m not sure what the headline should be from the Oval Office Throwdown (h/t breitbart.com, which actually thinks Trump won the fight). You could go with “Nancy Pelosi saves her job” or “Donald Trump loses what’s left of his mind.”
Either one works.
If by some chance you haven’t yet seen the standoff, please watch now. In the era of peak TV, this confrontation is as peak as it gets.
I’m still not sure exactly what happened. I know that Pelosi and Chuck Schumer went to the White House to meet with Trump and an apparently tranquillized Mike Pence on the matter of the border wall and the threat of a looming partial government shutdown. I assume it was to be a private meeting, but Trump invited the press in to watch, and off we went (everyone except Pence, who never budged).
Maybe Trump was trying for an ambush or maybe he just wanted to prove he hasn’t lost his reality-TV chops. But by the time it was over, Pelosi had mocked Trump to his face and challenged him to a vote in the House on the Mexican-border wall — which she assured him he would lose — while Schumer mocked Trump for the poor GOP midterm showing and had gotten so far under Trump’s skin that the president blurted out, for all to hear, that if he didn’t get his way, he would shut down the government.
In other words, Trump took ownership of any possible shutdown, which must have made Mitch McConnell’s day. And why would he do this? Because he was being publicly challenged, and, well, he freaked. Or as Pelosi privately told fellow Democrats of the wall, knowing her words would soon leak: “It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him.”
Trump, meanwhile, hit back at Pelosi for her problems holding on to the speaker’s gavel. He took a dig at Schumer for losing a couple of Senate seats. (Schumer, in an aside to the cameras, said: “When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble.”)
Welcome to the future. With the House under Democratic control beginning in January and the Senate holding on to the filibuster, this little meeting is what the next two years could look like for Trump. I mean, it’s bad enough he’s got Mueller playing Javert. Now he’s got Pelosi and Schumer (yes, even Chuck Schumer) up in his face.
I’m guessing that those House Democrats who don’t think Pelosi is up to the job any more — see: Perlmutter, Ed; Crow, Jason — may have lost a little momentum in their effort to unseat her.
Here’s the money quote from Trump: “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 this country. So I will take the mantle, I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it.”
It sounds like something Trump would say at a rally, and if he had mentioned, say, Pelosi’s name, the crowd would be chanting “lock her up.” But this was not a rally. This was Democratic leadership saying they’d agree to a little more border-security money than they agreed to last year, and that that should be enough.
When Trump talks about border security, he means the wall, which, as you’ll recall, Mexico was once going to pay for. Last year, the Democrats agreed to $1.3 billion just so long as none of the money was actually spent on wall construction. This time, the number is up to $1.6 billion, but still without wall construction.
Trump is demanding $5 billion — on the way to $25 billion or more — from Congress or it’s shutdown time. He gave himself an out, saying that if all else fails, he would have the military do the building. There’s a problem here, of course, with simply moving money around without Congressional approval. But we know from Rex Tillerson about Trump’s views on legality in creating policy.
In any case, the wall is an immovable political object. Trump’s base is absolutely pro-wall. And most Democrats are just as ferociously opposed. At one point, some Democrats were ready to give in on the wall in order to save DACA. I don’t think that could happen now.
The funny thing is that on Tuesday morning, before the meeting, Trump had tweeted about how well border security is going under Trump’s watch. In the Oval Office meeting, he told Pelosi and Schumer that the border patrol had recently caught 10 terrorists. A Washington Post fact-check revealed that the State Department had reported that “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”
This is vintage Trump-talk. You remember the “Middle Easterners” who were supposedly with the Central American caravan. In his pitch to Pelosi and Schumer, Trump went over some other debunked points — the criminals the wall would keep out, the diseases the wall would keep out, the drugs the wall would keep out.
We’ve seen it all countless times. What we’d never seen was Pelosi and Schumer telling him to his face it was all nonsense, even as the cameras rolled.
Meeting the press afterwards, Pelosi said she could have been tougher on Trump, explaining, “I did not want to, in front of those people, say that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I checked the transcript. She didn’t say that. Turns out, she didn’t have to.