Donald Trump escalated his confrontation with House Democrats over their efforts to investigate his presidency, declaring he’d refuse to work with them on bipartisan policies including an infrastructure plan unless they halt their probes.
“Get these phony investigations over with,” Trump said he told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday at the White House. Democrats said he stormed out of a scheduled meeting without letting them talk.
Minutes later, reporters were abruptly summoned to the White House Rose Garden, where a podium had been prepared for Trump to speak. He led off a lengthy, unscripted statement by complaining that Pelosi had accused him of conducting a “cover-up.”
“Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to people who just said I was doing a cover-up,” Trump said. “I don’t do cover-ups.”
Congressional Democratic leaders were invited to the White House on Wednesday to discuss an infrastructure plan that they and the president have agreed may total $2 trillion. But the meeting ended abruptly in “high drama,” Sen. Dick Durbin said, after Trump walked in and announced he wouldn’t meet with them due to the ongoing investigations.
“He just took a pass,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol after the incident. “I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”
Before the White House meeting, Pelosi met with House Democrats at the Capitol to discuss their investigations and the White House effort to stonewall them. Rank-and-file Democrats are increasingly demanding that the House open impeachment proceedings in response.
Pelosi has sought to tamp down talk of impeaching Trump.
“We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts, we believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” she told reporters after the Democrats met. The remarks appeared to have infuriated Trump.
The front of the Rose Garden podium was decorated with a sign titled “Mueller Investigation By the Numbers,” declaring that special counsel Robert Mueller had found “NO collusion” and “NO obstruction.”
Trump proceeded to recite a familiar litany of complaints about Mueller’s investigation and probes launched by Democratic House leaders. The special counsel didn’t find that Trump or his associates engaged in a conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election, but detailed at least 10 instances in which the president sought to interfere in his probe.
Trump said he told Pelosi and Schumer he wanted to work on an infrastructure plan, “but you know what, you can’t do it under these circumstances.”
“I’ve said from the beginning, right from the beginning, that you probably can’t go down two tracks,” Trump said. “You can go down the investigation track, and you can go down the investment track — or the track of let’s get things done for the American people.”
Democrats had said they expected Trump to propose ways to pay for the plan at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Now that he was forced to actually say how he would pay for it, he chose to run away,” Schumer said. “It’s clear that this was not a spontaneous move by the president of the United States. It was planned.”
Trump said in a Sunday interview on Fox News that he’s concerned about “being played” by Democrats trying to bait him into publicly backing a tax increase to pay for the infrastructure plan.
The president has previously stormed out of a meeting with Democratic leaders. In January, he abruptly left a meeting with Pelosi and other Democrats at the White House to discuss the government shutdown he initiated after Congress refused to provide as much money for a border wall as he’d demanded.
Schumer said after returning to the Capitol that he doubted Trump was serious about discussing infrastructure, noting that the House investigations were ongoing three weeks ago when Democrats and the president first agreed to a $2 trillion plan. He also observed that the sign on the president’s podium appeared to have been prepared in advance.
Bloomberg writers Steven T. Dennis and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.