The Oval Office meeting late Tuesday morning between President Donald Trump and congressional Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was supposed to begin with a brief photo opportunity and the chance for the participants to offer a bland nicety or two for the cameras. Instead, the cameras stayed for about 15 minutes as the three got into a comical argument about the topic at hand: funding for Trump’s proposed border wall, the impasse at the center of an end-of-year government-funding negotiation. Though the bickering wasn’t a flattering look for any of the leaders in attendance, Democrats ultimately secured the sound bite they wanted, with Trump welcoming blame for any shutdown that might come.
The meeting began earnestly enough, with the president welcoming Pelosi and Schumer and sharing the news about how bipartisan criminal justice reform and farm bills would be moving through Congress soon. He first brought up the wall in joking fashion, describing it as the “easy” issue Congress still had to resolve. From there, though, he went into talking points about the necessity of the wall.
“The wall will get built,” Trump said, “but we may not have an agreement today.”
After this monologue, he asked Pelosi if she had anything to say. She did. She observed that the American people “recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown.”
“Did you say Trump?” Trump asked. And we were off.
Pelosi and Trump got into a lengthy argument about whether a bill meeting Trump’s full wall-funding request of $5 billion could pass the House. Trump said that he “would have it passed [in the House] in two seconds,” but that it wouldn’t matter, since it would get filibustered in the Senate. Pelosi, who’s just a little better of a vote-counter than Trump, urged him, then, to “go do it” if it really could pass the House, to at least start the discussion.
“You will not win,” she said.
It was around here that Pelosi—or “Nancy,” as the president consistently referred to the current minority leader and speaker-designate—suggested for the first time that the meeting could be more productive if the press weren’t there. But no way was the press going to leave the room.
Then it was time for “Chuck” to speak. While the Pelosi-Trump exchanges were between two leaders with very different styles, the Schumer-Trump exchanges had the tenor of an argument about the Yankees’ bullpen. Several times, when Schumer urged him not to shut down the government, Trump shot back that Schumer was blamed for the last shutdown.
“This spiraled downward,” Pelosi interrupted, again.
The two somehow came to argue about election results. Trump bragged about how they gained seats in the Senate, to which Schumer responded that “when the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble.”
“I did,” Trump chimed in. “We did win North Dakota and Indiana.”
Trump mocked Pelosi, too, saying she was in a position “where it’s not easy for her to talk”—as in, she has been trying to corral 218 votes for speaker and couldn’t show any weakness on wall funding.
“Mr. President,” Pelosi said, “please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as a leader of the House Democrats who have just won a big victory.”
“Elections have consequences, Mr. President,” Schumer said.
“That’s why the country is doing so well,” Trump added.
Vice President Mike Pence sat silently in crossfire of the whole spectacle, trying to disappear into the furniture.
Though Schumer and Pelosi seemed uncomfortable in the setting for much of the meeting, they were ultimately successful in getting what they wanted. When Schumer observed that the president had said 20 times that he would shut down the government if he didn’t get his wall, Trump bit.
“You want to know something?” the president said. Schumer sure did. “I’ll take it. You know what I’ll say? Yes. If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you or through military or anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.”
“Fair enough,” Schumer said, toning down his enthusiasm.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” he continued. “Because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting it down. I’m going to shut it down for border security.”
Schumer, somehow, resisted the urge to do a chef’s kiss.
Here’s the full video: