“He sort of slammed the table and when Leader [Nancy] Pelosi said she didn’t agree with the wall, he just walked out and said we have nothing to discuss.”
— Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), remarks to reporters, Jan. 9
“The president then turned to the speaker, and politely asked her, ‘Okay, Nancy. If we open the government up, in 30 days, could we have border security?’ She raised her hand and said, ‘No, not at all.’ "
— House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), remarks to reporters, Jan. 9
“I didn’t pound on tables. I didn’t raise my voice. That was a lie. What you should do is give them Pinocchios.”
— President Trump, remarks to reporters, Jan. 10
What really happened in that brief meeting to resolve the government shutdown in the White House Situation Room?
Democrats described a Trump temper tantrum. Republicans depicted a calm leader facing implacable foes. Democrats certainly won the spin war, as many news accounts led with the image of the president slamming the table.
We were curious to look into the matter after the president, in effect, requested a fact check. Our first stop was the White House, where we requested permission to watch a video of the Situation Room meeting. We were told it was a classified setting, so that simply was not possible. There was no confirmation that a video even existed.
So that leaves us with the commentary made by the participants themselves, all fierce partisans who may not be accurately reflecting what was said. But we can parse the rhetoric to get a sense of what happened. We will look at two questions:
- Did President Trump slam his hands on the table?
- Did Trump ask Pelosi if she would accept “border security” or a “wall” if the government was reopened?
We have assembled all of this material in the video above so readers can see for themselves.
There is only one on-the-record source for the so-called slam, and that is Schumer. He initially did not say “slam.” He emerged from the White House and said: “He sort of slammed the table and when Leader Pelosi said she didn’t agree with the wall, he just walked out and said we have nothing to discuss.”
But when Schumer spoke to reporters at the Capitol, his language got more definitive: “It was an amazing meeting. The president threw another temper tantrum, slammed the table and walked out.”
What’s a “sort of slam”? Two Democratic sources described it as abruptly putting hands on the table. The Democratic background readout distributed to reporters described it as Trump “slaps hands on table.”
But Schumer’s characterization was disputed by Republicans:
McCarthy did not directly address the supposed slam but said: “The president calmly said, ‘I guess you’re still not wanting to deal with the problem.’ ”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.): “Nobody slammed their hand on a table. To mischaracterize some of the things that happened in that meeting is not fair to this process.”
Vice President Pence also denied it but with somewhat weaselly “don’t recall” language: “I don’t recall him ever raising his voice or slamming his hand, but this is a president who feels very strongly about his commitment to see to the security of the American people.”
Notably, other Democrats at the meeting have not backed up the “slam” statement with on-the-record quotes.
Immediately after the meeting on Jan. 9, Pelosi did not echo Schumer’s description. Pelosi on Jan. 10 made this comment, but it could be viewed as metaphorical: “We don’t want to be a backdrop for the president to stomp the table and get up and walk out. I think he thought we were going to stay there when he left. He got up, we got up.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) dodged when he was asked a direct question by CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Jan. 9. He simply said an “angry” Trump “got up” from the table.
- CUOMO: “And is it true that he came in and that there was a relatively quick conversation, like so if I reopen this government, will you be ready to give me a wall at some point in like a month or so? Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi said no, and he slammed his hand on the ground and said see you.”
- HOYER: “He left. I don’t know whether I would say — he got up. Obviously he was angry and huffy, and he walked out.”
Schumer’s staff did not comment. Mariel Saez, a spokeswoman for Hoyer, said: “We would describe what happened the way Senator Schumer did.”
‘Wall’ vs. ‘border security’
McCarthy has been quite on message that Pelosi rejected Trump when he asked if she would support “border security,” using the phrasing again on the Sunday shows. But he’s an outlier.
Democrats have said Trump asked whether Pelosi would be “in favor of the wall,” and that is largely backed up by other Republican participants in the meeting, including Trump.
Pence: “The president called the question in the meeting, he asked Speaker Pelosi that if he opened things up quickly, if he reopened the government quickly would she be willing to agree to funding for a wall, or a barrier on the southern border? And when she said no, the president said goodbye.”
Scalise: “When the president looks at Nancy Pelosi and says if I give you another 30 days, will you be willing to support some funding for a wall to secure the border and she says no, not, well, maybe a little bit more than a dollar, not some serious counter-offer, just flat out no, that’s not an acceptable answer to a serious crisis on our border.”
(Lauren Fine, Scalise’s press secretary, said she understood that the president referred to “a wall” rather than “border security.”)
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.): “That is exactly how it was phrased, and that is that Speaker Pelosi, if I were to open up the government today, three days from now, would you support any funding for border security, for a wall, and she said, ‘No.’ "
Trump: “I said, well, if we go back and everything is peachy-dory, and you say, “We’ll talk over 30 days,” at the end of 30 days, are you going to give us great border security, which includes a wall or a steel barrier. She said no.”
McCarthy’s staff did not respond to requests for comment.
The Pinocchio Test
We can’t really offer Pinocchios because all of the witnesses have a political bias of one sort or the other. But by parsing the comments and giving more weight to on-the-record comments, we can render some judgments.
‘Wall’ vs. ‘border security’
It appears unlikely that Trump requested Pelosi’s support only for border security, as McCarthy frames it. That would have been an opening for a possible compromise she could have exploited, since Democrats say they are for border security — or even a barrier such as the fencing that Congress approved earlier in the Trump administration. It’s pretty clear that Trump’s request was framed around a wall, though he may have said something along the lines of “a wall to secure the border” or “border security that includes a wall.”
Democrats clearly only heard the wall — which is a non-starter for them.
Lost in much of the news coverage was Schumer’s original description that Trump “sort of slammed” the table. His comment was disputed by Republicans and not verified in public comments by other Democrats.
Under cloak of anonymity, Democrats offered the idea of a slap or something abrupt. It’s possible that Trump’s apparent annoyance at Pelosi’s rejection was noteworthy by the fact that he is president, so it perhaps emerged in Schumer’s telling as something noisier than reality, then heightened into something even bigger — pounding the table — which Trump denied.
The president clearly got up abruptly and left the room, saying “bye-bye” in a clipped tone. No one disputes that.
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