WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump walked out of a negotiating meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday and threatened to declare a national emergency at the border after Democrats refused to yield to his demands for money for a border wall.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that Trump abruptly ended the White House session after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she did not support his border wall.
“He just got up and said we have nothing to discuss, and he walked out,” Schumer said. “He just walked out of the meeting.”
Schumer called Trump’s behavior “unbecoming of a president.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers disputed the Democrats’ account and said the meeting ended after Democrats refused to offer a counterplan to reopen the government and demanded the GOP adopt their proposal.
Trump gave Schumer and Pelosi the floor to make their case, but “they want to argue,” said House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Trump treated the Democrats politely, McCarthy said, but they reacted with “embarrassing” behavior.
Trump himself seemed to confirm that he had walked out of the session, writing on Twitter: “Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
The end of what was supposed to be a new round of bipartisan talks came on the 19th day of a partial government shutdown – now the second-longest in history – that was triggered by Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and Democrats’ refusal to give him the money.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump said he was still considering declaring a national emergency on the border if negotiations with Democrats fail to yield a deal on funding for the wall he is demanding.
Trump told reporters that he thought he and Democrats might be able to come to an agreement but that an emergency declaration is an option to free up money for a wall.
“I think we might work a deal (on the government shutdown), and if we don’t, I may go that route,” he said. “I have the absolute right to do (a) national emergency if I want. … My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.”
A emergency declaration theoretically would allow Trump to use military money to build the wall. But Democrats and some Republicans have questioned the legality of such a move, saying an emergency declaration would be challenged in court.
Ahead of Wednesday’s failed bipartisan meeting, Trump and Pence traveled to the Capitol for a closed-door luncheon with Senate Republicans.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Trump reiterated his threat to pursue a national emergency declaration to get funding for his wall absent progress in negotiations with Democrats.
“I may do that at some point,” Trump said, “if they don’t agree with the fact that our country really has problems with crime.”
Trump repeatedly sought to portray a sense of unity among Republicans, even as some have suggested opening portions of the government while negotiations over the wall continue.
“There was no discussion about anything other than solidarity,” Trump said. “The Republicans are totally unified.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also stressed that Republicans remain solidly behind Trump in the budget standoff. But at least three GOP senators – Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – have publicly said the Senate should at least consider the House plan to reopen the government.
“The operations of the Department of Interior and the National Park Service or the operations of the IRS and whether or not tax refunds go out don’t have anything to do with border security,” Murkowski told reporters Tuesday. “So let’s bifurcate these issues. Let’s set them aside. Let’s allow for the operations, these governmental functions in these six other departments, allow for them to continue.”
Meanwhile, the House voted 240-188 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would fund the Treasury Department and the IRS so that Americans’ tax refunds won’t be delayed because of the shutdown. Eight Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the bill.
The House will take up three other bills to fund the remaining shuttered departments later this week. None of the measures, however, are expected to get a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate.
The White House threatened to veto all four bills, saying they are unacceptable without a broader agreement to address situation on the border.
Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry and Trevor Hughes