According to a senior House Democratic aide, Pelosi and Schumer entered the Oval prepared to offer Trump a year-long continuation of current funding levels. One White House official warned me last night, though, that their proposal would be a nonstarter. “The president said that he wants $5 billion. It’s crystal clear, and we’re executing to it,” the official said. “It’s a red line. He’s willing to shut it down. He’s willing to own it.”
Their offer was indeed a nonstarter. Trump kicked off the impromptu press conference/negotiating session by quipping to Schumer that the wall would be “the easiest of all” issues to resolve. Schumer was cold in his response: “It’s called funding the government, Mr. President.”
Trump then repeated inaccurately that “tremendous amounts of wall have already been built.” (In fact, just over two miles of border wall has been completed south of San Diego. The bulk of funding over the past two years, as Trump partially notes, has gone to renovations and repairs of existing fencing.) He said that “once the wall was up,” illegal border crossings in San Diego “dropped 92 percent.” He cited a substantial decrease in crossings in El Paso, Texas, and two Arizona cities, Tucson and Yuma. “The only reason we have any percentage where people got through is because they walk and go around areas that aren’t built,” Trump added.
The Democrats were unmoved. “I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open,” Pelosi said. “That a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a ‘Trump shutdown.’”
Read: Trump isn’t crazy to question Mike Pence’s loyalty.
Pelosi claimed that Trump didn’t have the votes to pass his proposal, even in the House. “Nancy, I do,” Trump said, cutting her off. “It doesn’t matter, though, because we can’t get it passed in the Senate, because we need 10 Democrats.”
“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House,” Trump added, “I would have them in one session. It would be done.”
“Then go do it,” Pelosi said.
“It doesn’t help—” Trump began, before Pelosi cut him off and the conversation continued along its circular route.
Trump reframed his pitch for the wall, noting that border agents had “caught 10 terrorists over a short period of time.”
Schumer again was unmoved. He stressed that he and Pelosi wanted to come to an agreement: “We have solutions that will pass the House and Senate right now and will not shut down the government.”
The moments that followed felt scripted for a parodic television series on government. Pelosi told Trump his leadership had resulted in “50 people in the Republican Party” losing their House seats. Trump has been all but unwilling post-midterm elections to acknowledge the blue wave that swept the House, preferring to tout the party’s Senate gains. Which is exactly what he did on Tuesday in the Oval Office, interrupting “Nancy” to remind her. “Excuse me,” he prodded, “did we win the Senate? We won the Senate.”