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How Trump got into a televised tussle over a border wall

President Trump met with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at the White House to discuss border security, but the meeting soon erupted into an on-camera argument, with Trump saying that he would take full responsibility if the government shuts down next week over a conflict for wall funding. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A televised tussle over a border wall.

    President Trump got into it today with the top two congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The fight may push the federal government closer to a shutdown later this month.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    You have called 20 times to shut down the government. You say, I want to shut down the government. We don't.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Welcome to divided government in the era of Trump. The president, as he has done before, opened a tense high-stakes and traditionally private meeting to the cameras.

  • Donald Trump:

    I would like to not to see a government closing, a shutdown.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But never before have we seen this kind of real-time look at negotiations between branches of government, with President Trump looking to press his case for billions in funding for a border wall.

  • Donald Trump:

    We need border security. The wall is a part of border security. You can't have very good border security without the wall.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    That's simply not true, because that is a political promise. Border security is a way to effectively honor our responses.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    And the experts say you can do border security without a wall, which is wasteful and doesn't solve the problem.

  • Donald Trump:

    It totally solves the problem.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And Democrats looking to highlight Mr. Trump's threat to partially shut down government over this.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    One thing I think we can agree on is we shouldn't shut down the government over a dispute. And you want to shut it down. You keep talking about.

  • Donald Trump:

    Yes. If we don't get what we want one way or the other, whether it's through you, through a military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government, absolutely.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    Okay, fair enough. We disagree. We disagree.

  • Donald Trump:

    And I will tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don't want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country.

    So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn't work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I'm going to shut it down for border security.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    But we believe you shouldn't shut it down.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Congress has a long to-do list before the December 21 deadline to pass more funding. But the most stubborn block on that goal is the president's demand for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    In the next spending bill, he wants $5 billion for the wall. Democrats currently are offering $1.3 billion, not for the wall, but for border security.

    But the real math problem is about votes. Any funding bill needs support of Democrats in the Senate, led by Chuck Schumer. But House Democratic Leader Pelosi questioned if Mr. Trump's plan even has enough Republican support in the House.

  • Donald Trump:

    If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session. It would be done.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Well, then go do it. Go do it.

  • Donald Trump:

    It doesn't help, because we need 10 Democrats in the Senate.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    No, don't put it on the Senate; put it on — put it on the negotiation.

  • Donald Trump:

    OK, let me ask you this, just — and we're doing this in a very friendly manner. It doesn't help for me to take a vote in the House, where I will win easily with the Republicans.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    You will not win.

  • Donald Trump:

    It doesn't help to take the vote, because I'm not going to vote the vote of the Senate.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Donald Trump:

    I need 10 senators. That's the problem.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Mr. President, you have the White House, you have the Senate.

  • Donald Trump:

    I have the White House. The White House is done.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    You have the House.

  • Donald Trump:

    And the House would give me the vote if I wanted it. But I can't because I need…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Donald Trump:

    Nancy, I need 10 votes from Chuck.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    All right, let me say something here.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Let me — let me say one thing. The fact is that you do not have the votes in the House.

  • Donald Trump:

    Nancy, I do, and we need border security.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Well, let's take the vote, and we'll find out.

  • Donald Trump:

    Nancy — Nancy, we need border security. It's very simple.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Of course we do.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And the politics are even more complicated. As Democrats prepare to take over the House of Representatives, Pelosi is vying to be speaker of the House, though she has yet to clearly clinch all the votes needed.

    President Trump seemed to nod to that, evoking fast response.

  • Donald Trump:

    I also know that, you know, Nancy's in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now, and I understand, and I fully understand that. We're going to have a good discussion, and we're going to see what happens. But we have to have border security.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Mr. President — Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    Elections have consequences, Mr. President.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Let me just — let me just…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    While few Republicans echoed the president's shutdown push, they did charge that Democrats are not serious about border security.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reacted.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    It would be truly bizarre for them to decide they prefer a partial government shutdown to reasonable funding for national security. I would seem as through their party is more committed to political spite for the president than to the public interest.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, De-Calif.:

    Good afternoon. We just had a meeting of which you saw the introduction to.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Schumer and Pelosi reconvened outside the White House after their meeting.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    The bottom line is simple. The president made clear that he wants a shutdown. If he sticks to his position for a $5 billion wall, he will get no wall and he will get a shutdown.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The shutdown would impact about a quarter of U.S. government agencies, including the State Department and USDA. It would mean the closure of national parks and forced time off for thousands of U.S. federal employees.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you. I think we have just been watching a White House meeting that went off the rails.

    Yamiche, how do you understand that the president was so willing to air his strong differences with Democrats in front of the public, the American people?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president wanted to make his position crystal clear, and he wanted transparency. He wanted to look strong before cameras.

    And this is a president who understands the media. He understands those moments are going to be played over and over again, and he was hoping he could punch hard and he could then come out and look on top and look like he was someone who was fighting hard for border security.

    Of course, what he got instead was Democrats who were pushing back just as hard. I think the key moment there was when he was talking to Nancy Pelosi, and he was mocking her, almost saying, look, you're not speaker of the House yet, you can't be candid.

    But instead of backing down, Nancy Pelosi said, hey, guess what, we had a big election victory. And that went straight to the president's heart. So I think the president is in some ways feeling a little wounded tonight, as he thinks about how this coverage, how this really affects his White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what was the reaction at the Capitol from Republicans and Democrats?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's plenty of it.

    Let's start with Republicans. Interesting, Judy. There's only one Republican I spoken to on the Hill, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is on the side of the president in everything he's saying. Graham is saying, yes, he should talk about a shutdown, that it is worth it.

    But, otherwise, Judy, Republicans very along a spectrum that I would say ranges from stoic observation of the fact that the president operates like this often, to those who are openly uncomfortable with the president taking blame, as a Republican, for a potential shutdown at Christmas.

    Now, they also all admit that he's someone who operate outside of space and time politically. So perhaps this is a case where the base is happy. Unclear.

    Democrats, Judy, they think this is a win universally for them. But, however, they have to make some real strategic decisions coming off that they think the fact that president talked about owning a shutdown. That's what they wanted out of this meeting, and they got it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, we noted the president said he would be proud to own a shutdown. Do we understand his thinking there? And is he willing at all to consider compromise?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president thinks a government shutdown will help him politically. He's not willing to back down, from all the sourcing that I have been able to gather today.

    The president has been pitting Americans against immigrants. Today, he said over and over again, immigrants are going to bring drugs to this country, they're going to be criminals. He said — quote — "They're going to bring diseases to this country."

    So this is a president that's hoping that if he takes jobs from thousands of people and shuts down the government, that he can do it in the name of pitting Americans vs. immigrants.

    And this is something that worked at times during the midterms. You think of what he said in Florida during the midterms and this idea that he ran that ad that was deemed almost two racist for both FOX News and CNN and other networks to really put on their network.

    So what you have is a president who's doubling down on his strategy and hoping that this political bet is going to pay off.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, I know you have been doing some reporting on whether there's room, if there's any room for compromise around the Capitol. What are you hearing?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, think about this strange situation we're in, Judy.

    This argument is really over about $3.5 billion, which is a fraction of 1 percent of the total federal budget. So it's really mostly a symbolic battle. And we also heard the president perhaps tip off what many people, both parties, think could be the pivot point here. What defines wall funding?

    Today in this meeting, he said, wall funding is important. And then he stopped and said, but I want to say, let's say border security funding is important.

    So if the money goes to something like fencing or cyber-technology, those are the kinds of things that Democrats are happy to pay for and very likely, I think, to increase the funding for.

    One more thing, Judy, one X-factor next week, already members of Congress are leaving town for good. I spoke to one member who took her final vote today. So it's not clear who would even be voting on this bill. And I also think, to the president's assertion that he has the votes to pass $5 billion in wall funding, it is not clear that he does.

    And Speaker Ryan himself would not directly say if Republicans have those votes in the House. So that's another problem for the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very interesting.

    And, very quickly — we have only got about 30 seconds, Lisa.

    There was significant movement, an announcement today from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, that he is willing to put criminal justice reform up for a vote. Tell us just quickly what happened there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This could move very quickly. This is historic reform on criminal justice.

    It does deal some with sentencing. It is not as far as many Democrats would like to go, but it is farther than we have seen Congress go ever before. Expect it to move fast and expect us to talk a lot more about it on this show.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor watching all these important things, thank you all. Thank you both very much.

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