WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday vowed to block full funding for the government if Democrats refuse his demand for a border wall, saying he was “proud to shut down the government for border security” — an extraordinary statement that came during a televised altercation with Democratic congressional leaders.
“If we don’t have border security, we’ll shut down the government — this country needs border security,” Mr. Trump declared in the Oval Office, engaging in a testy back-and forth with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.
“I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” Mr. Trump added, insisting on a public airing of hostilities even as the Democrats repeatedly asked him to keep their negotiating disputes private.
“It’s not bad, Nancy; it’s called transparency,” Mr. Trump snapped after one such interjection by Ms. Pelosi, who appeared to trigger the president’s temper when she raised the prospect of a “Trump shutdown” over what she characterized as an ineffective and wasteful wall.
“The American people recognize that we must keep the government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that we should not have a Trump shutdown,” Ms. Pelosi said.
“A what?” Mr. Trump shot back.
The unusual display in the Oval Office raised fresh questions about how and whether Mr. Trump and lawmakers can reach agreement by a Dec. 21 deadline to keep much of the government open, appearing to harden diametrically opposed positions on the president’s signature issue. It also showcased the interplay of two politicians playing to very different bases: Mr. Trump appealing to his core anti-immigration supporters and Ms. Pelosi to the young liberal lawmakers she needs to keep in her camp ahead of next month’s speaker election.
Outside the West Wing after the meeting Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump had thrown a “temper tantrum” over the wall, saying: “The president made clear that he wants a shutdown.”
In a statement shortly afterward, Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi said it was up to Mr. Trump to avert the disaster he had promised, by embracing their proposals to essentially postpone the dispute for another year, either by passing the six noncontroversial budget measures that are outstanding and extending Homeland Security funding for one year at current levels, or passing one-year extensions for all seven remaining spending bills.
“We gave the president two options that would keep the government open,” they said in a statement. “It’s his choice to accept one of those options or shut the government down.”
Mr. Trump had begun the day appearing to soften his stance somewhat on the wall. In a series of morning tweets, he falsely stated that substantial sections of the “Great Wall” on the southwestern border that he has long championed have already been completed, and he suggested that his administration could continue construction whether Democrats fund it or not.
That would be illegal, but it suggested that he was looking for a way to keep the government funded past Dec. 21, even if Democrats balk at wall funding.
The meeting — the first time in more than a year that the duo the president likes to call “Chuck and Nancy” traveled to the White House to negotiate with Mr. Trump — was the first test of the new power dynamics among the three as Democrats prepare to take control of the House, and as Republicans scramble to accomplish as much as they can in the waning days of their dominance on Capitol Hill.
It quickly grew personal for Mr. Trump, who aides say respects what he sees as Ms. Pelosi’s strength as a negotiator and toughness in the political trenches, but who sought on Tuesday to publicly undercut her position by raising questions about her job security.
“Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now,” Mr. Trump said, appearing to allude to Ms. Pelosi’s struggle to garner the votes to be elected speaker under a new Democratic majority, where she is maneuvering within a caucus divided between hard-left progressives and more centrist lawmakers.
“Please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory,” Ms. Pelosi shot back.
Mr. Trump’s approach to Mr. Schumer was initially friendly, but it soon turned sour.
“The wall, that’ll be the one that will be the easiest of all,” Mr. Trump said with a smile when he raised the issue for the first time as reporters looked on. “What do you think Chuck — maybe not?”
“It is called funding the government, Mr. President,” a stern-faced Mr. Schumer said, going on to point out that Mr. Trump had made false statements about the effectiveness of the wall and how much of it had been built.
“You don’t want to shutdown the government, Chuck,” Mr. Trump later told his fellow New Yorker, referring to a brief shutdown in January when Democrats insisted that protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children must be part of any funding measure. “The last time that you did, you got killed.”
[Mr. Trump makes misleading claims about the border wall before meeting with Democrats.]
The president has suggested, repeatedly, that a shutdown might be necessary to compel Democrats to swallow $5 billion in wall funding. But on Tuesday morning before the meeting, he had appeared to be softening his stance.
“People do not yet realize how much of the Wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built,” Mr. Trump wrote in one of the messages. “If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall. They know how important it is!”
It was not clear what Mr. Trump was referring to. American troops he dispatched to the border on the eve of midterm congressional elections as part of what the president called an effort to head off a migrant “invasion” have put up concertina wire along existing fences and barriers, but the administration has yet to spend much of the $1.3 billion Congress approved for border security last year. Under restrictions put in place by Congress, none of that money could be used to construct a new, concrete wall of the sort the president has said is vital.
The president does not have the legal authority to spend money appropriated for one purpose on another task, such as wall-building.
But by the time the Democrats were seated on couches flanking him in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump appeared in no mood to compromise.
The president’s conservative allies in Congress have urged Mr. Trump to hold firm to his insistence on wall money, and use all means necessary to include additional immigration restrictions in the year-end package.
“Securing the border isn’t going to happen in a Pelosi-run Congress,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the co-founder and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said in an op-ed Tuesday on the Fox News website. “We still have three weeks. That’s more than enough time to do what we said.”