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WHITE HOUSE — The Democratic leadership and U.S. President Donald Trump publicly clashed in the Oval Office on Tuesday with the president threatening to shut down the government if lawmakers do not provide adequate funding for his promised wall along the border with Mexico, declaring it a response to “a national emergency.”
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” said Trump, then adding twice: “I will take the mantle.”
“We shouldn’t shut down the government over a dispute, and you want to shut it down,” responded Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
The top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, and Trump had an extended argument on the requisite votes to approve a budget and border security after she cautioned that “a shutdown is not worth anything.”
“I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this,” Pelosi added.
“We’re doing this in a friendly manner,” replied Trump, prompting a grimace from Pelosi.
“Nancy, I need 10 votes from Chuck,” added the president.
“We have a lot of disagreements here,” Schumer responded and then had a heated exchange with Trump – at times declining to let the president interrupt him in the Oval Office.
“Let’s call a halt to this,” Pelosi then interjected, saying she and Schumer had come to the White House for a good-faith discussion to keep the government open.
“Let’s debate in private,” Schumer agreed.
“You need the wall. The wall is a part of border security,” contended Trump.
“That is not true,” Pelosi responded and Schumer again agreed.
“Elections have consequences, Mr. President,” Schumer later said in reference to this year’s midterms, in which the Democrats achieved a net gain of 40 seats in the House to regain control of the chamber beginning in January.
Trump agreed that elections have consequences, noting his 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton and a slew of Republicans in the primary. He also boasted that the Republicans retained control of the Senate in the November midterm and increased its majority to 53 to 47.
Emerging from the West Wing, Schumer and Pelosi made brief statements and took a few questions from reporters.
“The Trump shutdown is something that can be avoided,” Pelosi said.
“The president made clear he wants a shutdown,” Schumer said and warned that if Trump sticks to a demand for $5 billion for the border wall “he will get a shutdown and no wall.”
Trump, later in the day, told reporters the Oval Office meeting was “very friendly” after the cameras were off and progress had been made. But he accused the Democrats of wanting open borders, arguing that would lead to crime and “communicable disease.”
The president reiterated he is willing to let government funding run out if he does not get adequate money for the border wall.
“If we have to close down the country over border security, I actually like that,” said Trump.
WATCH: Lawmakers work to avoid shutdown
The Democratic leaders have offered the president $1.3 billion for his border project. Trump has demanded $5 billion, although he had previously repeatedly insisted Mexico would pay for it.
Pelosi, poised to return as House speaker in January, has previously characterized Trump’s planned wall as “immoral.”
Prior to the meeting, the president took to Twitter to warn that the U.S. military would build the border wall if Democrats do not authorize adequate funding for it.
Trump, in one of his five messages on the social media platform Tuesday morning about immigration, also deemed a success action by his administration to halt a caravan of migrants seeking to reach the United States via Mexico.
The president – in an action that critics called politically motivated — had ordered troops to the border area prior to the November 6 congressional elections, decrying the caravan as an “invasion.”
Approved funds for the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies run out December 21. The government agencies are currently operating on a short-term spending bill approved by Congress last week. That action postponed a deadline for a government shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is calling for border security funding to be a priority for lawmakers.
“For the nation’s sake, I hope that my Democratic friends are prepared to have a serious discussion and reach an accommodation with the president on funding for border security … The reality is that the president’s request is entirely reasonable, he said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. “Senate Republicans are working with the president and his homeland security team on a $5.02 billion targeted funding to boost security measures in specific places where DHS determines it is most needed. And make no mistake, the need is great.”
Steve Herman is VOA’s White House Bureau Chief.