12 Dec 2018

Donald Trump, top Democrats in astonishing Oval Office spat

9:51 am on 12 December 2018

US President Donald Trump openly fought with the top two Democratic lawmakers at an Oval Office meeting about government funding, throwing into question whether a deal was possible ahead of a deadline later this month.

Donald Trump (C) US House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (L) and US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) argue as US Vice President Mike Pence (2-L) looks on. White House, 11 December 2018.

Donald Trump, centre, US House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi, left, and US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, right, argue as US Vice President Mike Pence, second left, looks on. Photo: AFP

In a remarkable public argument, the likes of which is seldom seen before cameras, Mr Trump bickered with US Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi about funding for the wall he has promised to build on the southern border with Mexico.

"If we don't get what we want, one way or the other - whether it's through you, through a military, through anything you want to call - I will shut down the government," Mr Trump said as the heated argument drew near a close.

"I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don't want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country," he said before reporters left the room.

Congress is seeking to finalise spending before some federal government funding expires on 21 December. While Mr Trump's fellow Republicans control both the House and the Senate until next month, Democratic support is needed to pass any spending legislation.

The president has asked for $US5 billion, while Schumer and Pelosi were expected to offer just $1.3b for border security in a package to extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security until 30 September. That is less than the $1.6b a bipartisan Senate committee has approved.

'Transparency'

It was the first time Mr Trump met with Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer since the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the 6 November congressional elections - a rocky start to the relationship the White House will have with the opposition party, with which it needs to deal to advance any priorities.

The fight kicked off when Ms Pelosi told Mr Trump that Americans did not want to see a "Trump shutdown," touching a nerve. Mr Trump cut off Ms Pelosi, arguing that he could not advance a funding bill without Democratic votes in the Senate.

"I don't think we should have a debate in front of the press on this," Ms Pelosi said.

"We're doing this in a very friendly manner," Mr Trump said, as Vice President Mike Pence sat beside him, silent and stony-faced.

Senior White House staff watched the melee from the corners of the room, among them Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, immigration adviser Stephen Miller, and Shahira Knight, his legislative director.

Then Mr Schumer brought up "Pinocchios" that Trump had been awarded by the Washington Post for misstatements on the issue, and accused him of wanting to get his own way.

"Let's call a halt to this," Ms Pelosi said as the two New Yorkers went at it.

"It's not bad, Nancy - it's called transparency," Trump said.

When Ms Pelosi brought up Republican election losses in the House, Mr Trump quickly retorted that his party won the Senate.

"When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble," Mr Schumer said to the astonished press capturing the back-and-forth.

- Reuters