So the president, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and Vice-President Pence had a nice little photo op in the Oval Office prior to conducting the negotiations on appropriations needed to avoid a partial government shutdown on December 21. The president, it should be noted, was fresh from a morning tweetstorm in which he seemed to be saying it didn’t really matter whether Congress gave him money for his border wall, because it was already being built, or the military could build it, or something:
This arguably suggested that Trump was ready to fold on his earlier demands for $5 billion in specific border wall funding. And for all we know, that was his intention before the Oval Office appearance. Then things quickly got weird. Pelosi’s insistence that Trump doesn’t have the votes in the House for a border wall seemed to set him off, and then Schumer may have pushed him over the edge by mentioning the Washington Post’s criticism of his incessant lies about the border wall.
Now, he has very definitely painted himself into the opposite corner. Even as both Schumer and Pelosi kept warning him that the conversation needed to be in private, Trump got himself so worked up over the need for his conception of border security that by the end of the meeting he was boasting of his willingness to shut down the government.
He even said to Schumer: “I won’t blame you for it.”
It will probably be forgotten in the heat of the moment that Trump, for the first time, accepted personal responsibility for something bad happening during his presidency. But the more immediate issue is how, if at all, he can get out of his self-entrapment here. That may have been what was going through the mind of Mike Pence, who said nothing during the Oval Office exchange but looked like he was watching a family member disgrace himself during a drunken holiday argument.
Recovering from this fiasco may not be easy. Trump’s friends over at Breitbart.com exulted in the explosion, calling it the “Oval Office Throwdown” and suggesting that Trump chose the moment to rout Democrats in the most public setting available. How does he meekly cut a deal now?
The one thing that’s very clear is that if portions of the federal government shut down right before Christmas, Trump will totally own it. He told us so.