WASHINGTON —President Donald Trump abruptly blew up an infrastructure meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House on Wednesday and declared that bipartisan cooperation was impossible while House committees are investigating him, underscoring the increasing combustibility between two warring branches of government.
Trump refused to even sit down when he walked into the scheduled Cabinet Room meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. He then headed to a hastily called news conference in the Rose Garden.
Trump told reporters there that he gave the surprised Democratic leaders an ultimatum, warning that they needed to choose between pursuing infrastructure or their increasingly aggressive investigations of his finances, businesses and administration, and the growing talk of launching impeachment hearings.
“You probably can’t go down two tracks,” he said. “You can go do the investigation track, or you can go down the investment track.”
He added, “I walked into the room and I told Sen. Schumer (and Speaker) Pelosi, ‘I want to do infrastructure, I want to do it more than you,” said Trump. “But (we) can’t do it under these circumstances.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the extraordinary political theater and whether it signaled the death knell to any infrastructure plan before the 2020 election, or indeed political compromises on any other key legislative issues, given the dramatic charges and countercharges.
Trump made clear he was irked by Pelosi’s charges, at an earlier news conference, that the president’s stonewalling of up to 20 House investigations amounts to a “cover-up.”
“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump said, blaming Democrats for what he called unfair harassment. “These people are out to get us.”
After returning to the Capitol, Democrats called their own news conference to say they were stunned by Trump’s behavior.
“To watch what happens in the White House will make your jaw drop,” Schumer said. “We are interested in doing infrastructure. It’s clear the president isn’t. He is looking for every excuse.”
Schumer said the premade sign affixed to the president’s lectern in the Rose Garden — “No Obstruction, No Collusion” it read — showed that Trump’s move was long planned. He suggested Trump had stormed out of the meeting because the White House had failed to find a way to fund an infrastructure bill.
Pelosi, who said Democrats did not believe ongoing investigations have anything to do with infrastructure talks, opted not to speculate as to what motivated Trump’s behavior.
The president “couldn’t match the greatness of the challenge that we have. He just took a pass, and it makes me wonder why he did that,” she said. “In any event, I pray for the president of the United States.”
More House Democrats called this week for impeachment proceedings as the White House continued to defy subpoenas, refusing to hand over documents or allow current or former administration officials to testify, in the aftermath of the special counsel report last month from Robert S. Mueller III, who laid out 10 examples of the president attempting to interfere with his investigation.
Repairing the country’s crumbling bridges, airports, roads and other infrastructure was one of the few issues where Democrats and Republicans appeared to have common interests.
Three weeks ago, Trump welcomed Pelosi and Schumer to the White House and vowed to pursue a $2 trillion plan, although he didn’t say how he would pay for it. He later faced blowback from congressional Republicans, who opposed raising the gas tax, the traditional funding source for such improvements.
An hour before Wednesday’s follow-up meeting, Pelosi emerged from a meeting with House Democrats that focused on how to proceed with their investigations given the White House resistance, and the prospect of pursuing impeachment.
She told reporters that “no president is above the law” and repeated twice that Democrats believe Trump is engaged in “a cover-up.”
And, she noted, Trump met with Democrats on infrastructure three weeks ago even though the House investigations were fully underway at the time.
Pelosi and Schumer emerged from that meeting pleasantly surprised by Trump’s eagerness to pursue a massive infrastructure bill. The president even upped the ante after Schumer had said the Democrats had drawn up a $1 trillion package, stating that he wanted $2 trillion in new infrastructure spending.
After some discussion, the White House announced they would meet again in three weeks for a follow-up discussion on the proposals.
The White House, according to two sources involved in ongoing discussions, has no plan to generate revenue for infrastructure improvements aside from sweeping cuts to existing nonmilitary programs, something Democrats are sure to oppose.
On Tuesday night, Trump sent Pelosi and Schumer a letter informing them that he wants Congress to ratify the revamped free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico before they take up infrastructure. In that letter, Trump asked Democrats to clarify their priorities with specific funding requests.
Schumer, after the explosion of Wednesday’s meeting, said he’d brought a list of 35 projects to the White House, attempting to contrast Democrats’ good faith approach to talks with the president’s reluctance.
“Now that he was forced to come up with a way to pay for it, he ran away,” Schumer said.