Trump stalks out on Democrats, demands end of investigations

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump abruptly stalked out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, flatly declaring he would no longer work with Democrats unless they drop all investigations in the aftermath of the special counsel’s Trump-Russia report.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it all “very, very, very strange” and said she was praying for Trump and the nation. Trump tweeted his thanks for her prayers but said he would not proceed down two tracks — investigation and legislation.

Democrats said his ultimatum seemed scripted, with signs declaring his innocence already prepared for his outdoor remarks that followed. Yet Trump’s unease with congressional oversight and talk of what he called the “i-word” — impeachment — now threatens to deprive him of legislative accomplishments for the remainder of his term.

The scene playing out live on television was reminiscent of earlier ones at the White House, including during the federal government shutdown, when Trump walked out on Democrats. While this standoff could benefit him politically in the short term, with his tough talk stirring up supporters, it leaves his trade deals, a new budget and other goals in jeopardy as he heads into a re-election campaign. Democrats called it another Trump temper tantrum.

“I want to do infrastructure,” Trump said he told Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, noting the scheduled topic of the meeting.

“But you know what? We can’t do it under these circumstances,” he said he told them. “So get these phony investigations over.”

Without ever shaking anyone’s hand, or even taking a seat, Trump turned and left the three-minute meeting. He strode to the Rose Garden where reporters and TV cameras had been assembled and proceeded to assail the Democrats, particularly Pelosi for her comment earlier in the morning on Capitol Hill that she believed the president was engaged in a “cover-up” of the Russia probe.

“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump fumed.

Back on Capitol Hill, Pelosi said Trump “just took a pass” on working on national infrastructure problems.

Flanked by Schumer and other House and Senate leaders, Pelosi said the Democrats had gone to the White House “to give this president the opportunity to have a signature infrastructure initiative.”

The meeting had been set weeks ago, after Trump and the Democratic leaders agreed to talk further about a possible $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Democrats have been working with the president’s daughter Ivanka, and Trump was due to provide his ideas on how to pay for it.

But he told them he couldn’t engage on infrastructure because Pelosi said “something terrible,” according to an administration official and another person familiar with what happened in the room.

Democrats said they doubted he actually was ever going to put forward a plan. Schumer — who brought his own 35-page proposal to the meeting — said that when Trump “was forced to say how he would pay for it he had to run away.”

What started as a challenging day for Pelosi as she tries to tamp down growing calls for an impeachment inquiry swiftly turned, with the attention going back on the president. Even some Republicans noted the shift.

“In the end we’ve got work to do,” said Sen. John Cornyn, who called the meeting dramatic. “And I think the best thing we could do for the people we work for is to try to make progress where we can.”

Earlier Wednesday, House Democrats had convened for a closed-door meeting amid Trump’s stonewalling of their investigators, as a growing number of the party’s lawmakers say they want to open an impeachment inquiry. They say it’s not necessarily aimed at removing the president from office but to bolster their position in court against his blocking their probes with broad claims of immunity. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York spoke up at the meeting, and some two dozen Democrats have signed on to the idea.

With her leadership team, Pelosi, who has resisted pressure to impeach, suggested patience. She pointed rank-and-file Democrats toward the legal battles that she said have already found success i n forcing Trump to comply with investigations.

“We do believe it’s important to follow the facts,” Pelosi told reporters afterward. “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.”

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