ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump took questions from reporters Monday for the first time in several days, but key matters — including some that lawmakers must quickly sort out — went unresolved. And he issued a blanket vow he just might regret.
The president used part of his joint press conference with fellow-populist Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, to send members of Congress a signal that his government shutdown threat isn’t an all-or-nothing warning to ensure his immigration and border security demands are completely met.
Some things became somewhat clear Monday in the East Room. However, the brief press conference, in many ways, raised more questions than it answered.
The president expressed a willingness to negotiate with lawmakers over his border security demands and funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. But he did not throw down a dollar amount — or even a ballpark range — that they would need to approve for the project to avert his shutdown threat. Is the House’s $5 billion figure for fiscal 2019 enough? That’s what lawmakers and Trump’s aides will have to figure out in the coming weeks as they race to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30.
Trump waited to strike on his border demands until the House had already left for its August-long break. That means he is giving members of both parties a very short time to find a way to assuage him: The House is slated to only be in session for about a dozen days in September.
Watch: Standing Next to Conte, Trumps Says He’ll ‘Consider’ Shutdown Over Border Policy
There’s a fight brewing. And it could pit Trump against members of his own party who favor smaller amounts of wall funding each year compared to what president is signaling he wants.
Interestingly, the president was not asked about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or his ongoing probe of Russian election meddling and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
That means several things remain unclear:
- Despite what his legal team is saying and some GOP lawmakers are advising, is the president planning to meet with the special counsel? Trump and Conte took four questions, and the U.S. chief executive did not reply to shouted questions as they left the room about whether he will meet with Mueller.
- The Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon (as in: President Richard Nixon) that the Constitution does not guarantee across-the-board immunity for presidents in all instances in which they are handed a subpoena. Would Trump comply with a subpoena from Mueller? Monday’s press conference did not produce a final answer.
- Another question Trump didn’t face: Just what did his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, mean earlier in the day when he said, “Collusion is not a crime.” The president has insisted there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russians; Giuliani’s comments muddy his client’s blanket denial.
House and Senate Republican candidates across the country should be prepared for Trump, should he decide to campaign on their behalf, to give their voters a giant dose of the kind of right-wing immigration rhetoric that could backfire on the GOP. That’s because lines like the ones he delivered alongside Conte could fire up Democrats and hurt Republicans in the turnout game.
“Border security is national security,” Trump said. “They are one and the same.
“You know, for economic development, you need borders,” he said later.
As usual, a contradiction
Trump expressed a willingness to negotiate directly with Iranian leaders over their nuclear program. But he did not specify what they would have to agree to for him to sign any potential deal. Still, it was a remarkable comment because it came just eight days after he warned Iranian President Hasan Rouhani in an all-caps tweet to “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
But that wasn’t the contradiction. The president appeared to give Democrats who have been calling for him to be interviewed by Mueller a new talking point by issuing a blanket pledge.
“I’ll meet with anybody,” he said, referring to Iranian leaders. “I believe in meeting.”
Just not, for now at least, with the special counsel.