An angry US President Donald Trump on Tuesday told Democratic leaders at the White House that he would shut down the US government because they are refusing to approve billions of US 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 opportunity. Instead, their blazing row in front of the world’s media gave a preview of the stormy future facing Trump as legal scandals mount and his Republican Party gives up its once total control of the US Congress.
US Senator Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the Republican-dominated Senate, and US Representative Nancy Pelosi, who is likely next month to become speaker in the newly Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives, bluntly told Trump that he had no chance of getting the US$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 Friday next week to avoid leaving swaths of the US government without funding.
“Yes, if we don’t get what we want one way or the other ... I will shut down the government,” Trump said. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”
Schumer objected, while Pelosi suggested that the debate should not take place in front of journalists, but Trump, whose US-Mexico wall idea was at the center of his surprise 2016 election victory, 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 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 afterward, 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,” Schumer said.
Pelosi was quoted by US media as telling fellow Democrats that Trump’s wall push was “like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him.”
Trump later played down the scene, saying the meeting had been “very friendly” and that he “respects them both.”
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.
Opponents say the wall is not only a waste of money, but has been used by the president to whip up xenophobia.
Trump has been frustrated in the first two years of his administration. Now, as the government funding deadline approaches, both sides have to decide whether to blink.
After the meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump insisted that he would hold firm.
“I don’t mind owning that issue,” he said. “If we have to close down the country over border security I actually like that.”
The power shift comes as Trump faces ever-growing peril from criminal investigations, with talk growing of possible impeachment proceedings against him.
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