In a meeting with Congressional Democrats on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said as cameras rolled that he would be “proud” to see the federal government shut down should he not receive the $5 billion in funding for the border wall he has demanded to form part of a year-end sending bill. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was joined by Sen. Charles E. Schumer and called upon the president to usher out the media in the Oval Office who were observing the pow wow. The unprecedented political debate played out in front of the White House press corps in a meeting that had been initially billed as private.

Saying that he was trying to be constructive, Trump continued to answer questions from reporters while batting back ripostes to Pelosi and Schumer. “It is not an easy situation,” Trump said as Vice President Mike Pence observed. “We are on very opposite sides. I would not like to see a government closing, a shutdown.” Pelosi tried to shoo the media, telling Trump, “I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this.” 

“Let’s debate in private,” Sen. Schumer pleaded. He then said, “Elections have consequences, Mr. President.” The president answered, “That’s right. That’s why the country is doing so well.”

Trump said that he would have no problem seeing an eventual shutdown. “Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other,” he said, telling Mr. Schumer he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”

“We cannot have a Trump shutdown,” Pelosi said. She and Schumer said that Trump would bear the responsibility for any agencies experiencing a shut down before Christmas. However, the president said that last significant shutdown happened this year because Schumer led fellow Democrats to force a shutdown over demands to grant full citizenship rights to illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers.” In the end, Democrats grew frustrated when they did not wrest any concessions from Republicans and thus retreated. 

On Tuesday, Pelosi and Schumer accused the president of lying about border security and his plans for the border wall. They claim that they want to keep the government operating even while denying him any additional funding. 

Currently, about 25 percent of the basic operations of the federal government are funding through a stopgap legislation that continues until December 21. Funding will cease for the departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Justice, and Homeland Security, if no new agreement is reached. 

When Trump said that he is willing to allow a partial government shutdown unless Congress provides the border funding, Pelosi dared him repeatedly to put the border wall funding to a vote in the House of Representatives, while noting that both chambers of Congress are currently controlled by Republicans. “You have the White House, you have the Senate, you have the House of Representative — you have the votes,” Pelosi said. Parrying her jibe, the president told Pelosi, “The problem is the Senate. Nancy, I need 10 votes from [Senator] Chuck [Schumer].”

The Homeland Security bill that the House has passed includes the dollar amount desired by the president. The Senate version includes $1.6 billion.

Following the White House meeting, Schumer said he offered two options to Trump that would keep the government open by continuing Homeland Security funding in 2019 at the same level it had had in fiscal year 2018. That would mean $1.6 billion in funding for border security, but with restrictions. 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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