WASHINGTON- President Donald Trump publicly clashed Tuesday with the top House and Senate Democrats over funding for the border wall and the prospects of a government shutdown during an Oval Office meeting that was open to the press, a sign of what divided government in Washington may look like next year.
Trump repeatedly touted the importance of securing funding for border wall construction and was rebuffed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who made clear that they would hold Trump responsible if the government shuts down later this month.
While the parameters of the political impasse have been known for months, the scene inside the White House Tuesday was a new escalation between emboldened Democrats, who will have the House majority starting in January, and Trump regarding his signature campaign promise. The deadline for funding is December 21.
The sparks started to fly after Pelosi characterized the possibility of a shutdown as a "Trump shutdown."
"If we don't get what we want, one way or the other...I will shut down the government," Trump said later in the meeting.
Trump also claimed that he had the political momentum given that Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, leading Schumer to take a jab.
"When the President brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble," Schumer said.
Schumer has urged Trump to either accept the Senate's bipartisan agreement to spend $1.6 billion to boost border security measures, or agree to a one-year spending resolution that would keep those funded at the current level of around $1.3 billion. Schumer said last week that money can be used for fencing and other features, rather than "to construct any part of President Trump's 30-foot-tall concrete border wall."
"If we don't get what we want, one way or the other ... I will shut down the government," Trump said later in the meeting.
Trump and Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have pushed for $5 billion for the wall.
In an interview on Fox Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said, the migrant caravan moving towards the US-Mexico border is a "game-changer" and urged the President to "dig in and not give in on additional wall funding."
Schumer and Pelosi released a joint statement the night before their meeting with Trump, coming out strongly against Trump's wall proposal and arguing Republicans will feel the blame of a shutdown.
"Republicans still control the House, the Senate, and the White House, and they have the power to keep government open," Pelosi and Schumer stated. "Our country cannot afford a Trump Shutdown, especially at this time of economic uncertainty. This holiday season, the President knows full well that his wall proposal does not have the votes to pass the House and Senate, and should not be an obstacle to a bipartisan agreement."
Congressional Republicans on Tuesday sought to put pressure on Democrats. Rep. Liz Cheney, who was recently elected to a leadership position in the House GOP, placed blame for a potential shutdown on Democrats, asserting that as Republicans "we've done our work over here on the House side" and that Pelosi and Schumer "so far they have been unwilling to come to any agreement."
The easiest solution for Congress to avoid a shutdown and get out of Washington before the Christmas holiday could be to avoid the issue altogether, and pass a short-term resolution to extend the rest of the federal government's spending into next year, when Democrats take over the House. But Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican Whip, said Monday he didn't expect Trump to agree to that.
"That really just postpones the pain, it doesn't really solve the problem," said Cornyn, explaining that Trump still wouldn't then get the wall funding he wants.
Other members of Republican leadership expressed doubt about the productivity of Trump's scheduled meeting Tuesday.
"Oh, it could be really important," said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. "It's likely not to be very important."
Despite Republican control of the House and Senate, Trump has little leverage to force Congress into appropriating money for the border wall. While "Build the Wall!" was perhaps Trump's most indelible campaign promise, Republicans in Congress are broadly less enamored than he is with the prospect of building it and Democrats still control enough seats in the Senate to block it.
For months, Trump's frustration at Congress' response to his demand has spilled out into public. From July through September, Trump repeatedly said he'd be willing to shutdown the government over the wall, backtracked and then reiterated he would do it because he views it as a political boost. Few on Capitol Hill agree that Republicans would politically benefit should parts of the government shut down.
Democratic leaders and the President appear to be far apart on the issue even though warning signs of the spending showdown have been flashing for so long.
Last week, Pelosi called the proposed wall "immoral, ineffective and expensive," while Trump claimed that the country would save billions of dollars if Congress would pass a bill to build it.
"Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally," Trump tweeted. "We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary