More descriptions of the heated exchanges between President Trump and congressional Democratic leaders during their two-hour meeting Friday are emerging — and the partial government shutdown wasn’t the only topic on Mr. Trump’s mind. Though the president later described the meetings over border security as “productive,” Democratic leaders told reporters afterward that the discussions had been “contentious.”
According to a source familiar with the meeting, Mr. Trump initiated the talks – held for the second time this week in the White House Situation Room – by lambasting the shutdown impasse and again demanding $5.6 billion for border security, which he declared to be the minimum figure he needed to build the southern border wall he has been promising since his presidential campaign.
But Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, again refused to consider that number. The president then told them he was willing to continue to the shutdown “for months or even years” unless the Democrats agreed to what he says is crucial funding for the southern border.
“I did say that. Absolutely, I said that,” Mr, Trump later confirmed at a press conference, when CBS News’ Major Garrett asked him if he had in fact told them that he’d keep the government shut for “years.”
During the meeting, Mr. Trump also brought up the topic of impeachment, railing against calls by some Democrats to impeach him, according to a source familiar with the exchange.
“Why does everyone want to impeach me, Nancy?” Mr. Trump asked.
No one wants to impeach you, Pelosi told the president and tried to move the focus of the meeting back to border security. Although one freshman Democrat, Rashida Tlaib, had said of the president to a group of progressives this week, “We’re going to impeach the motherf*****.”
Mr. Trump also tried unsuccessfully to appeal to Pelosi’s Roman Catholic faith in arguing for wall funding.
“The Vatican has walls. The Vatican has walls surrounding the city,” Mr. Trump said, according to the source. “You like the Vatican, Nancy?”
“Let’s change the subject, sir,” Pelosi replied.
It was not the first time the president has brought up the Vatican walls as a comparison in their discussions, administration sources said. The president mentioned the Vatican during their meeting earlier in the week, too.
A source familiar with the exchange said the president respects Pelosi and was just kidding with her to make a point. But she seemed to take the comment “not well.”
Pelosi and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also had a contentious interaction over the border security facts that Nielsen presented during the meeting, an administration official confirmed. As she did during an earlier meeting in the week, Pelosi interrupted Nielsen’s presentation and challenged facts she cited about the southwest border.
“These aren’t my facts,” Nielsen replied.” They are just facts.”
Staff-level negotiations involving Vice President Mike Pence are expected to continue through the weekend as the partial government shutdown enters its third week.