House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak out after President Trump halted infrastructure policy negotiations and held an impromptu speech where he said he won’t work with Democratic leaders.
WASHINGTON — President Trump abruptly blew up a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday, declaring that he could not work with them until they stopped investigating him and lashing out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi for accusing him of a cover-up.
He then marched out into the Rose Garden, where reporters had been gathered, and delivered a statement bristling with anger as he demanded that Democrats “get these phony investigations over with.” He said they could not legislate and investigate simultaneously. “We’re going to go down one track at a time,” he said.
The tempestuous clash between Mr. Trump and Ms. Pelosi suggested that efforts to forge bipartisan legislation on issues — already a long shot — may effectively be frozen for the foreseeable future while the president and his opponents wage war over the various investigations now underway.
The confrontation came on a day when talk of a possible impeachment drive raised temperatures on both sides of the aisle. Restive House Democrats pressed Ms. Pelosi to open a formal inquiry aimed at removing the president from office for high crimes and misdemeanors while both sides sought to gain the upper hand in the escalating conflicts over testimony and documents.
The Justice Department struck a deal with the House Intelligence Committee to provide some secret material related to the special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump and Russia, while a second federal judge ruled against the president’s efforts to block the release of financial information sought by lawmakers.
Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders were to meet on Wednesday morning to develop a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure. But Ms. Pelosi first met with Democrats on Capitol Hill to deflect pressure on impeachment, which she has opposed. Emerging from that meeting, she sought to signal sympathy with Democrats angry at the president’s efforts to block their investigations, declaring that “the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”
Mr. Trump saw the comments and did not hide his fury when she and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, arrived at the White House. The president walked into the Cabinet Room and did not shake anyone’s hand or sit down, according to people in the room. He said that he wanted to advance legislation on infrastructure, trade and other matters, but that Ms. Pelosi had said something “terrible” by accusing him of a cover-up.
After about three minutes, the president stalked out before anyone else could speak. From there, he headed to the Rose Garden, where a lectern had been set up with a preprinted sign that said “No Collusion, No Obstruction” along with statistics intended to show that the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was more than thorough.
“Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that have just said that I was doing a cover-up,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t do cover-ups.”
“I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi: ‘I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that, that’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with,’” he said.
Returning to Capitol Hill, the Democratic leader expressed disappointment, and said they were ready to make a deal with the president on infrastructure.
“He just took a pass and it just makes me wonder why he did that,” Ms. Pelosi said. “In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”
Mr. Schumer expressed shock at the outcome. “To watch what happened in the White House would make your jaw drop,” he said.
Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump’s eruption was hardly spontaneous, noting the preprinted sign on the lectern. Instead, he suggested that the president had staged it because he had not come up with a way to pay for such an enormous spending package.
“Hello! There were investigations going on three weeks ago when we met, and he still met with us,” Mr. Schumer said. “But now that he was forced to actually say how he would pay for it, he had to run away. And he came up with this preplanned excuse.”
Ms. Pelosi did not back down later in the day at a forum sponsored by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “In plain sight, this president is obstructing justice and is engaged in a cover-up,” she said. “And that could be an impeachable offense.”
The blowup at the White House was reminiscent of a meeting in January when Mr. Trump erupted at Ms. Pelosi during the partial government shutdown as he sought money for his promised border wall. After she refused to go along, he said “bye-bye” and stormed out.
In this case, Mr. Trump has been in a foul mood since Monday, snapping at aides about his rally in Pennsylvania and complaining about news media coverage of the investigations. In his view, people close to him said, Democrats are seeking to render his presidency illegitimate.
While Democrats assumed he planned to stage a scene at the meeting all along, White House aides said it did not come up at an 8:30 a.m. meeting of the communications team. Instead, they said, Mr. Trump saw Ms. Pelosi’s comments, which she made around 10 a.m., and seethed with anger.
The president then met with a small group of aides in the Oval Office about 45 minutes before Ms. Pelosi was to arrive at 11:15 a.m. and talked through what he planned to do. He did not get pushback from the assembled aides, though others who were not in the room objected, according to an administration official. Another official insisted that was not the case.
When Mr. Trump entered the Cabinet Room for Wednesday’s meeting with the Democrats, he did not take his seat near the center of the table and instead stood at the end of the table and admonished his guests, according to an account from two people in the room, one Republican and one Democrat.
After Mr. Trump walked out, Ms. Pelosi turned to other Democrats there and recounted a story about how Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt had each brought people together to solve infrastructure problems.
“I knew he was looking for a way out,” Ms. Pelosi concluded. “We were expecting this.”
Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, was in the room. “Respectfully, Madam Speaker,” she asked, “do you have a direct response to the president?”
Ms. Pelosi said she was responding to the president, not members of his staff.
“Really great,” Ms. Conway replied sarcastically. “That’s really pro-woman of you.”
In the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump emphasized that he and his team provided documents and testimony to Mr. Mueller without citing executive privilege even though he said the special counsel was biased against him. Mr. Trump did not himself agree to be interviewed in person.
“These people were out to get us, the Republican Party and President Trump, they were out to get us,” he said, referring to himself in the third person. “So here’s the bottom line,” he added. “There was no collusion, there was no obstruction. We’ve been doing this since I’ve been president, and actually the crime was committed on the other side.”
The sign on his lectern, titled “Mueller Investigation by the Numbers,” had been printed in advance not specifically for Wednesday but for use at some point in the near future, aides said. On it was a mix of accurate and inaccurate information. It said, correctly, “2,800+ subpoenas,” “675 days” and “500+ witnesses.”
But it also said “$35+ million spent” and “18 Angry Democrats,” which are not factually founded. The latest report indicated that the investigation cost about $25 million as of September, and that half of that was Justice Department costs that would have occurred even without a special counsel. And while 14 of Mr. Mueller’s 18 investigators were linked to Democrats, Mr. Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican.
Infrastructure had been one area where Mr. Trump and the Democrats have repeatedly suggested that they could work together, only to get nowhere in more than two years. It has become something of a joke in Washington — the phrase “infrastructure week” evokes laughter or eye rolling whenever it comes up.
The Wednesday meeting was probably doomed even before Ms. Pelosi’s “cover-up” comment. Mr. Trump upended any prospect of agreement on Tuesday night by sending Democrats a letter saying that infrastructure should wait until after Congress passes his revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.
Prospects for any kind of bipartisan agreement were already dim since several Republicans in the Senate majority had balked at the scope of the package, particularly without a way to pay for it. As in the initial infrastructure meeting three weeks ago, no Republicans from either chamber were present for Wednesday’s meeting at the White House.
But Mr. Trump’s curt dismissal of infrastructure negotiations cast a shadow on several budget and funding deadlines, just a day after administration officials began talks with congressional leaders over a possible budget deal. Without an agreement before the fiscal year expires at the end of September, federal agencies will be forced to cut billions of dollars and adhere to strict limits on federal spending.
What was not clear was whether Mr. Trump would stick by his refusal to work with Democrats unless they drop their investigations.
“There’s going to be investigations on this administration for a while,” said Senator Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware. “To say that we’re not engaged on trade and other issues because of those investigations, I don’t know how realistic that is. It’s disappointing.”