WASHINGTON (AP) — The rift between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats appeared to be widening Thursday after a dramatic blow-up at the White House at a meeting on infrastructure.
A day after Trump stalked out of the Cabinet room demanding an end to congressional investigations, the Republican president and Democratic leaders dug in, while plans to fix the nation’s roads and bridges fell into the chasm.
Each side insisted it wants to agree on a plan, but a path forward was difficult to see. Shadowing the whole drama are the ongoing congressional investigations of whether Trump obstructed justice or committed other crimes and the demands by some Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against him.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Thursday on CNN that “it’s insane” to think infrastructure talks can continue as if Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not accused Trump of a “cover-up,” as Pelosi did Wednesday shortly before the White House meeting. Sanders said, “It’s real simple, you can’t go down two tracks.”
“It’s very hard to have a meeting where you accuse the president of the United States of a crime and an hour later show up and act as if nothing has happened,” Sanders told reporters outside the White House.
Trump tweeted that Democrats are a “do-nothing party!”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on MSNBC that the president is “an erratic, helter-skelter, get-nothing-done” leader.
The exchanges followed a day of particularly personal conflict between Trump and Pelosi, who reclaimed the post second in line to the presidency after the 2018 midterm elections .
On Wednesday, Pelosi told reporters that Trump is engaged in a “cover-up,” even as she sought to tamp down talk among some liberal Democrats pushing her to formally launch impeachment proceedings. Pelosi then headed to the White House with Schumer and other Democrats. Trump made them wait for 15 minutes. Then he walked into the Cabinet Room, shook no one’s hand and refused to take a seat. Trump declared he would not work with them on infrastructure after all until they shut down their “phony investigations” and strode out to fill the world in on the encounter at a Rose Garden press conference.
Pelosi, who has a rich history of sassing Trump, issued some shade.
“For some reason, maybe it was lack of confidence on his part … he took a pass, and it just makes me wonder why he did that,” she told reporters back on Capitol Hill. “In any event I pray for the president of the United States.”
“Nancy, thank you so much for your prayers, I know you truly mean it!” Trump tweeted from the White House.
But by Thursday, the White House’s talking points turned to blaming Democrats for the apparent impasse on one of the few issues that have broad bipartisan public support.
Repeatedly pressed on why the president seemed unwilling to multitask like other presidents under investigation have done before, Sanders maintained without evidence that, “I think the Democrats have shown that they’re not capable of doing anything else.”
In fact, the Democratic-controlled House has passed several bills on issues including firearms background checks, prescription drugs and campaign finance reforms — though they are dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Sanders also insisted that Trump’s walk-out Wednesday wasn’t planned before Pelosi’s comments and that the White House placard that appeared on Trump’s lectern as he denounced Democrats had been printed “weeks ago.” Asked why Trump couldn’t work with Democrats after Pelosi’s comments because he felt insulted, Sanders said, “The president’s feelings weren’t hurt. She accused him of a crime. Let that sink in.”
Despite Trump’s comments Wednesday about ceasing work with Democrats until investigations end, Sanders said “Staff-level conversations continue” on talks to raise the debt limit, a critical piece of legislation that will need to be taken up in the coming months.