ANALYSIS | President Donald Trump emerged from the Oval Office on Friday afternoon after what congressional Democratic leaders described as a “contentious” meeting, flanked by Republican immigration hard-liners. What followed was more than an hour of presidential threats and backpedaling during an impromptu Rose Garden press conference.
At one point, the president confirmed something Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters just minutes earlier: That during the closed-door Situation Room session he threatened to keep a quarter of the federal government closed for “months or even years” unless he gets $5.6 billion for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“I did say that,” Trump said when asked to confirm his fellow New Yorker’s contention. But in almost the next breath, he said: “I hope it doesn’t go on, even beyond a few more days.” And near the end of the chilly outdoor question-and-answer session, Trump struck a much more optimistic tone, saying he thinks the shutdown “will be over a lot sooner than” many people think.
But Trump’s meandering, stream-of-consciousness style likely did not give the 800,000 federal workers who are out of work and wondering when they might get their next paycheck much solace.
“We won’t be opening until it’s solved,” Trump said of the border barrier standoff, adding this of Democrats’ proposal to pass six department-specific spending bills that are unrelated to the border and re-open the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 8 to allow time for non-shutdown border talks: “We won’t be doing it in pieces. We won’t be doing it in dribs and drabs.”
The president’s self-contradicting statements were just a few among several telling moments from another wild day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:
Concrete < steel
Trump appeared to walk away once and for all from the kind of concrete border wall reinforced with steel that he talked about at campaign stop after campaign stop during the 2016 presidential race.
“I think we’ll have to build a steel wall, as opposed to a concrete wall,” he declared Friday. “A see-through wall made out of steel is far stronger than a concrete wall.”
Fact-checkers have concluded Trump has uttered over 7,500 false or misleading statements since taking office. He added to that count by falsely saying he “never said concrete” when describing the proposed border barrier as a candidate.
Steel. Concrete. The semantics of what Trump says verbally, however, are undermined by his tweets, aimed at his conservative base about holding out to get his wall, which Democrats staunchly oppose.
The president is the head of the federal government. His picture hangs in most federal offices. But he appears unconcerned about the nearly 1 million employees — some who live paycheck-to-paycheck — who won’t be paid during the shutdown.
He was asked what safety net he sees for those employees — his employees.
“The safety net is going to be having a strong border because we’re going to be safe,” he shot back, also asserting again without proof that federal employees agree with him on a prolonged shutdown, if necessary, to get his wall funding. He called that a “higher purpose.” Expect Democratic members to use this line against the president in the public relations fight.
“Donald Trump said he was ‘proud’ to shut down the government — forcing 800,000 federal workers to go without pay. Meanwhile, members of the Trump Administration are getting a big raise. It’s an outrageous insult to hardworking Americans,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., tweeted Friday. (Later, Trump said he would “consider” freezing those salary hikes and his top spokeswoman said the White House is exploring “options” to freeze them until the shutdown ends.)
Donald Trump said he was "proud" to shut down the government - forcing 800,000 federal workers to go without pay. Meanwhile, members of the Trump Administration are getting a big raise. It's an outrageous insult to hardworking Americans.— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) January 4, 2019
Trump called the Friday meeting “productive” and predicted weekend talks with lawmakers and his team “will be very successful … because I think the Democrats want to do something.”
As Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House adviser Jared Kushner prepare to spend the weekend negotiating with lawmakers and staff hand-picked by Republican and Democratic leaders, a cloud already hangs over those talks.
That’s because Trump has contradicted offers Pence made to Schumer at least twice. Do Pence and Co. speak for the president? Why should Democrats be confident what they discuss or even agree to with the administration delegation will stand once the president gets involved? White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to an email asking those very questions about her boss, who has contradicted her at times, as well.
On Thursday, Schumer said negotiating with Trump is like trying to hammer out a deal with “Jello” because he changes his mind so often. Trump’s remarks Friday appeared to do little to change the minority leader’s view.