“I don’t do cover-ups,” Donald Trump declared from the Rose Garden, surprising reporters who expected the president to be meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Instead, Trump walked out on the two Democrats after Pelosi accused him of being “engaged in a cover-up.” The proposed discussions on infrastructure investment, Trump told them, could take place when Congress ended its investigations:
After meeting with Democratic leadership at the White House today, President Trump says “I’m all set” to work on infrastructure and drug prices, but after congressional investigations end.https://t.co/UHmoX2tIBl pic.twitter.com/wGsHlUsdMI
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 22, 2019
New York Times reporter Katie Rogers reports that the meeting ended abruptly:
Per person familiar with what happened in the room before this Rose Garden presser: POTUS did not sit down or shake anyone’s hand. He told Dems that “once your investigation is done – we can talk about these things.” And then he left the room before anyone else could speak.
— Katie Rogers (@katierogers) May 22, 2019
CNN confirmed it shortly afterward:
“I’ve said from the beginning — right from the beginning — you probably can’t go down two tracks. You can go down the investigation track or you can go down the investment track,” Trump said.
He said during the meeting with Democrats that he couldn’t work with them until their investigations are over. “I walked into the room, and I told Sen. Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure,” he said. “But you can’t do it under these circumstances.”
He said he message to the lawmakers was “get these phony investigations over with.”
Trump then went out to the Rose Garden to accuse Pelosi and House Democrats of “abuse”:
Asked if he respects Congress’ powers of oversight, Pres. Trump says, “I respect the courts. I respect Congress. I respect right here, where we’re standing. But what they’ve done is abuse.” https://t.co/h1ImSdhRL5 pic.twitter.com/WnS8tbs5xt
— ABC News (@ABC) May 22, 2019
Pelosi and Schumer then held their own press conference to object to Trump’s remarks. Pelosi claimed that the president has “a lack of confidence” in his position, and that’s why he “took a pass”:
Nancy Pelosi says Democrats wanted to give President Trump a chance for a “signature infrastructure initiative”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 22, 2019
Schumer claimed that he and Pelosi went to the White House today to “find common ground” with Trump. Instead, Trump had a “pre-planned excuse” for bailing out of talks, and was looking for “every excuse” not to work with Democrats in this session of Congress:
Chuck Schumer says President Trump used congressional investigations as a “preplanned excuse” to avoid figuring out an infrastructure plan.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 22, 2019
Well, if Trump was indeed looking for “every excuse” not to work with Democrats, it’s equally true that Democrats certainly provided Trump with significant fodder for that effort today. Regardless of Pelosi’s intentions in reining in her caucus, she’s doing so by essentially calling Trump a crook who can’t be trusted and cheering on the twenty-plus probes in the House. Any president in that position would be reluctant to discuss House policy priorities, especially one as combative as Trump.
This puts Pelosi in a tough position. NBC’s Chuck Todd observed today that Democrats have accomplished nothing thus far in their new majority, and that they have little argument for keeping their House majority in 2020:
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tries to prevent her Democratic colleagues from rushing to impeachment proceedings, it’s worth asking again:
Five months into their majority, what do House Democrats have to show for it?
Not an infrastructure deal (the subject of today’s meeting with President Trump, which is unlikely to go anywhere, especially after Trump told Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that Congress should pass his U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal first).
Not any progress on health care, which was Democrats’ No. 1 priority in last year’s elections.
They can’t accomplish anything without working with the White House, either directly or indirectly through Mitch McConnell in the Senate. If they want to build a policy portfolio for 2020, they’ll have to find ways to get Trump engaged on their agenda items. Holding a press conference minutes before meeting with Trump to accuse him of a “cover-up” is hardly the most politic of strategies to achieve that. Trump understands exactly what Todd argues here and wants to make Pelosi and Schumer pay a price for their “abuse.”
On the whole, however, one has to suspect that Trump would have bailed out of these negotiations at some point anyway. Schumer’s not far off the mark in saying that Trump was likely looking for an off-ramp out of committing to a $2 trillion infrastructure boondoggle spending bill. Fortunately for Trump, Nancy Pelosi came riding to his rescue this morning. Pelosi wrapped up her comments by saying she’s “praying for the president,” but she may have been an answer to Trump’s prayers today.