WASHINGTON — It was supposed to be about infrastructure. But President Trump stormed out of an Oval Office meeting with Democrat leaders Wednesday and drew a line in the sand: He won’t cooperate on any legislation with Democrats until their investigations of his presidency end.
The president was furious about comments House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made earlier in the day that she believes Trump engaged in a “cover-up” related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.
In response, Trump said he wouldn't negotiate with them on any policy, including a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal that Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were there to discuss, or prescription drug prices, or anything else, while the investigations proceed.
“You can't do it,” he said.
At the press conference, Trump rattled off his usual “no collusion, no obstruction” talking points, complaining that his son Donald Trump Jr. had “gone through hell” during Mueller’s probe.
"I just saw that Nancy Pelosi, right before our meeting, made a statement that 'We believe the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,'" Trump said. "I'm the most transparent president probably in the history of this country.”
He added: “I don’t do cover-ups.”
“It was just bizarre”
Democrats reacted to the president’s temper tantrum with outrage — and some bewilderment.
“He walked in and just stopped, and didn’t walk in to where he normally would sit in the middle,” said Sen. Debby Stabenow (D-Mich.). “And then he made this statement as if he was surprised that there had been any investigations going on with him. I mean, it was just bizarre.”
Stabenow says Trump then turned and walked out, leaving Democrats stunned, especially because the president seemed to be trying to use infrastructure as a bargaining chip to get Democrats to end the myriad investigations they have underway.
“He can’t do that. It truly is in defiance of the Constitution”
“He can’t do that. It truly is in defiance of the Constitution,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Democratic Whip, told VICE News. “There are three branches of government, and there is a balance of power in this country, and he can’t will it away.”
Durbin fears the middle class and communities in dire need of new roads, bridges, lead-free water pipes, modern rail systems, and even access to broadband will feel the brunt of the president’s ire.
“America loses because of this president's pride,” Durbin said. “If we’re at the point where this president won’t perform his responsibilities of office because he’s angry at a press conference or an investigation, where do we go next?”
“I pray for the president”
The effects of this latest outburst could be felt for the next two years, because Trump has already broken his word with Democratic leaders on a deal for child immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and on gun control. And, now, infrastructure.
Democrats say they’ll have to keep negotiating with their Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, though they know they’ll still need a presidential signature on any bipartisan bills they’re able to send down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Look, we want to work with the president on anything we can, provided he works with us. And so far it doesn’t look like it,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after returning to the Capitol.
“I’ve got news for the president: Every president is under investigation”
And Democratic leaders aren’t even tempted to end their investigations into the president.
“I’ve got news for the president: Every president is under investigation,” Sen. Durbin said.
For her part, Pelosi has expressed reluctance to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, despite her party’s more-progressive wing — and even one Republican — saying there is reason to do so. She responded to Trump’s meltdown by saying she’d pray for him.
“We had hoped to give Trump a signature infrastructure achievement,” Pelosi said. “I pray for the president.”
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks about Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the Rose Garden at the White House May 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump responded to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying he was engaged in a cover up. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)