Wednesday’s White House meeting on Syria deteriorated into a “meltdown” as Republican and Democratic leaders presented a unified front against President Donald Trump on his decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria.
The two top House Democrats and the party’s top senator emerged from the West Wing following what they said was a substance-free and insult-filled few minutes with Trump. In a reverse of their last meeting with Trump on infrastructure in which he stormed out on the Democratic leaders, this time they walked out on him.
Trump earlier brushed aside a reporter’s question about him being face-to-face with Speaker Nancy Pelosi amid the impeachment inquiry. But when he and Pelosi were in the same room, she and other Democratic leaders said the president lost his cool.
Pelosi went so far as to tell reporters they had just witnessed the president have a full-fledged “meltdown.”
“We were offended. … He was insulting,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told reporters outside of the White House. The New York Democrat said Trump called Pelosi a “third-rate politician.”
Back at the Capitol, Pelosi told reporters Trump called her a “third-grade politician” and that she responded, “I wish you were a politician.”
According to the Democrats, the president’s remarks in the meeting turned into a “nasty diatribe.”
At one point, they said, he contended “communists” are now among the Islamic State group’s ranks, telling the Democrats “and you guys might like that.”
During public remarks, including at campaign rallies and official events, the president is fond of charging Pelosi with having lost control of her caucus, and being forced to take marching orders from her most far-left members.
On the subject they came to discuss, Syria and Kurdish forces being overrun by Turkish troops, Schumer said Trump “didn’t really have one,” meaning a plan to prevent ISIS from gaining strength in northern Syria.
“Then why did we spend a decade … trying to defeat ISIS if the president is going to do this on a whim?” Schumer said.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he has never seen any president disrespect a congressional leader in such a way. The meeting deteriorated and the president started lobbying insults after Pelosi and Schumer questioned what his plan was moving forward after withdrawing U.S. troops that were helping the Kurds, he said.
Hoyer, like Schumer, thought Trump had called Pelosi a “third-rate politician,” note a “third-grade” one as she heard but said the president used the retort at least three times.
“It was obvious that the meeting was going to get angrier and more defensive,” Hoyer said at the Capitol. “We felt that the meeting was no longer a meeting which we thought we would get useful discussion and results. So we left.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham did not deny Trump’s remark to the speaker, as she described Democrats’ group departure as a “storm out.”
“The president was measured, factual and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi’s decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising,” Grisham said in an email. “She had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.”
Pelosi and the Democrats “chose to storm out” and “whine” in front of the cameras, she said, adding: “Everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country.”
The meeting took place just minutes after the House voted overwhelmingly, 354-60, on a resolution to condemn his Syria troop withdrawal. Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol that before the meeting started she reported to Trump the strong bipartisan vote.
“He couldn’t handle it. He just couldn’t handle it. Two-to-one the Republicans voted to oppose what he’s doing in Syria,” Pelosi said. “He just couldn’t handle it, so he tried to engage in a meltdown.”
Pelosi said she always prays for the president, his family and the country but she may now need to add to those prayers.
“I think now we have to pray for his health because this was a very serious meltdown,” she said.
Asked if she was suggesting Trump was mentally unwell, Pelosi said, “I’m not talking about mentally. I’m talking about handling the truth.”
Trump did not bring up impeachment at all, Pelosi said. Although the president has certainly been worked up over the Democrats consideration of impeachment, Pelosi said it was the vote to disapprove of his actions in Syria that rattled him Wednesday.
“I think it’s a very sad commentary on the president of the United States that he doesn’t have enough confidence in what he’s doing to listen to other points of view, especially the overwhelming vote of the House of Representatives and have some level of respect for that,” she said. “And again it shook him up, melted him down and he behaved accordingly.”
“Does that mean that we can’t have future meetings? No. It just depends on the subject, I guess,” Pelosi added. “Does it mean we can’t pass things working together? Yes, we can. We will, because it is a collateral benefit to him [and] will never be a deterrent for us to do what is right for the American people.”