WASHINGTON — Arguing heatedly in public with Democratic leaders, President Donald Trump threatened repeatedly on Tuesday to shut down the government if Congress doesn't provide the money he says is needed to build a wall at the Mexican border.
He also held up note cards and rattled off statistics he said showed the effectiveness of border wall construction in stopping illegal border crossing. One of the stats he cited said a wall built in Tucson resulted in a drop to "illegal traffic" of 92 percent and up to 96 percent in Yuma, where there is a border wall.
Trump's comments came as he opened a contentious meeting with Democratic Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, with the government looking at a possible partial shutdown on Dec. 21 when funding for some agencies will expire.
In his first encounter with the newly empowered Democrats after their midterm victories in the House, Trump heckled the leaders as they said legislation to keep the government open and provide additional border security could pass both houses of Congress. Previewing what is expected to be a tense relationship in the new year, the group squabbled on national TV in the Oval Office as Trump said major wall funding was vital.
"If we don't get what we want, one way or the other, whether it's through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government," Trump said. "I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down."
Barely a half hour passed before the Democrats had exited a private meeting with the president, issuing stern warnings.
"This Trump shutdown, this temper tantrum that he seems to throw, will not get him his wall and will hurt a lot of people," said Schumer.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged Tuesday that the GOP-led House has yet to pass legislation that includes the $5 billion in border wall funds that Trump has been requesting. The reality is he likely lacks the votes from his Republicans who will lose their majority at the end of the month.
Trump is seeking far more for his long-stalled border wall than the $1.6 billion the Senate has agreed to for border security, including physical barriers and technology along the U.S. southern border
The public Oval Office meeting between Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and the Democrats began civilly, with Trump noting progress for criminal justice legislation in the Senate. But the session quickly unraveled as he mentioned his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Said Trump with a smile: "And then we have the easy one, the wall. That will be the easiest of all, what do you think Chuck?" Schumer shot back sternly: "It's called funding the government."
Constantly interrupting, Trump squabbled with the Democrats over whether wall funding could be approved in the House or Senate without Democratic votes. When Pelosi said he did not have support in the House, Trump interjected: "Nancy, I do."
Pelosi later said: "This has spiraled downwards."
After Pelosi and Schumer noted Democratic success in the midterm elections, the president asked whether Republicans had won the Senate in the November election.
"When the president brags he has won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble," retorted Schumer with a smile.