Trump breaks brief public silence during border negotiations
Washington – After days sequestered behind closed doors, President Donald Trump let loose Thursday, holding forth on border security negotiations, North Korea and other topics from the Oval Office.
Trump invited reporters in for the 40-minute session, which broke a five-day stretch with no public events from the typically media-hungry leader. Up to that point, Republicans and Democrats alike seemed just fine with Trump hanging back as legislators try to work out a deal to keep the government open and resolve a standoff over funding for the president’s long-sought wall at the southern border.
The president’s comments underscored the feeling among lawmakers that Trump was not always helpful in the negotiations. Trump accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of “playing games” and said he was not expecting much from Congress.
“I’m not waiting for this committee and I’ve told a lot of people I don’t expect much coming out of the committee because I keep hearing the words that ‘we’ll give you what you want but we’re not going to give you a wall,’” Trump said. “And the problem is if they don’t give us a wall it doesn’t work. Without a wall, it doesn’t work.”
Trump also started the morning with a flurry of tweets weighing in on the House-Senate talks that kicked off Wednesday during which House Democrats offered a plan without a penny for his long-promised wall.
“Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee are wasting their time,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “Democrats, despite all of the evidence, proof and Caravans coming, are not going to give money to build the DESPERATELY needed WALL. I’ve got you covered. Wall is already being built, I don’t expect much help!”
Trump’s flurry of activity followed a lull with no public events for five days. The White House had said the president had made his demands for border wall funding clear and was letting the committee process play out on Capitol Hill.
One official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks, still stressed that Trump was “engaged at every level” on border security, including receiving a lengthy briefing on the topic Wednesday, and has continued to get his message out, including doing an interview with The Daily Caller. The official added that the White House has also been heavily involved at a staff level.
Democrats were more pointed about the positive aspects of less Trump.
“When the president stays out of the negotiations, we almost always succeed,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. “When he mixes in, it’s a formula for failure. So I’d ask President Trump, ‘Let Congress deal with it on its own.’”
Asked about Schumer’s comment, Trump told The Daily Caller, “I don’t blame him.” But the Republican president added that “without our involvement, a deal is not going to get done.”
While Trump had been avoiding public appearances, he continued dishing out his practiced blend of bluster and blame on Twitter, including contradicting his intelligence chiefs and slamming a former staffer for writing a White House tell-all.
Trump will be speaking up more in the coming days. He’ll do an interview with CBS that will air during the Super Bowl on Sunday, his State of the Union address is Tuesday and the White House is weighing travel options for after the speech to drive home his message on border security.
Going quiet after the fractious fight with Democrats raised questions about whether Trump was missing an opportunity to publicly frame the debate and push his border security arguments. But some Republicans said Wednesday it was the right move.
“I think it’s smart for him to hang back here,” said Marc Short, former White House director of legislative affairs. “I do think he should still be traveling to vulnerable districts to put pressure on (Democrats) politically. But I think it’s fine for him not to be at the center of the negotiations.”
Trump’s allies also noted that he has been working on a variety of other issues throughout this period. He called Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to offer his support Wednesday. He attended a political function at the Trump International Hotel on Monday night. He hosted Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia for lunch at the White House on Sunday.
“There’s a ton going on. It’s Venezuela, China, North Korea. It’s not the public event stuff,” former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett said.
Bennett argued that giving Congress some space made sense for Trump, adding: “If I was him, I would see what they offer. If they don’t solve it, then solve it yourself.”