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White House denies Trump storming out of meeting was a stunt

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there were a number of reasons the president’s infrastructure session with Democratic leaders was doomed. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

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Sarah Sanders also said it’s ‘lunacy’ to think Trump would meet with Pelosi after she accused him of a cover-up.

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The White House on Thursday denied that President Donald Trump’s eruption one day earlier at a meeting with Democratic leaders was a pre-planned stunt, rebuffing lawmakers’ accusations that the president was trying to bow out of serious infrastructure negotiations.

Trump abruptly ended his meeting at the White House after complaining that he could not work with Democrats while they were investigating him and discussing impeachment. He specifically blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who earlier in the day had claimed Trump is engaging in a “cover-up.”

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The blow-up has devolved into finger pointing, with the White House and Democratic leaders each blaming the other for the impasse. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday argued there were a number of reasons the infrastructure session was doomed, but she pressed the line that Democrats are unable to simultaneously legislate and investigate.

“So far what we’ve seen from the Democrats in Congress, Alisyn, is that they are incapable of doing anything other than investigating this president,” Sanders told host Alisyn Camerota in an interview on CNN’s “New Day.” “They spend all of their time attacking him and the fact that they would have a meeting an hour before they are set to arrive at the White House where Nancy Pelosi literally accuses the president of a crime and then wants to walk into his office and sit down as if nothing happened, that’s just — that’s lunacy. That’s not even in the realm of possibility.”

She also accused Democratic leaders of getting ahead of themselves in asking the White House to propose how it would pay for a multi-trillion dollar plan so early in the process, which was expected to take up the bulk of Wednesday’s discussion.

“They wanted us to put together pay-fors, yet they didn’t even know what they were paying for,” Sanders said. “We haven’t even gotten that far down the process and that was what yesterday was supposed to be about, until Nancy Pelosi had a closed door meeting to talk about the impeachment of the president — which is ludicrous on so many fronts and something that the American people clearly don’t want, which is why she’s struggling so much to determine which path she’s going to take.”

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Sanders added: “She does that and then shows up here an hour later — it’s just, it’s crazy.”

Senior administration officials are insisting that the Rose Garden gathering was impromptu, spurred by Trump’s discovery of Pelosi’s comments, which one official said both Sanders and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney alerted him to.

But Democrats who were at the meeting argued Thursday it’s obvious that Trump’s outburst was planned.

Schumer, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said it was little more than a plotted effort to escape a sit-down that he was “ill-prepared” for, arguing that there were signs as soon as the night before that the president was not serious about Wednesday’s meeting.

“What happened yesterday, in my judgment, is that they were so ill-prepared and afraid to actually say how they pay for infrastructure — they were unable — that they looked for a way to back out,” Schumer said. He pointed to a Tuesday night letter from the White House urging lawmakers to focus on passing Trump’s renegotiated free trade agreement before turning to infrastructure.

“So that was their first gambit,” Schumer said of the letter. “Then they realized they had nothing to say on NAFTA, so I think probably early that morning they concocted this, you know, temper tantrum and he walked out.”

According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Wednesday’s meeting never even began, calling Trump’s actions a “bizarre performance.”

“The president came in as if he was going to attend the meeting and then simply walked out, in effect. It was a bizarre performance, an unfortunate performance for the American people,” he said in an interview on “Morning Joe.” Hoyer told MSNBC on Wednesday that he knew something was up when he noticed the curtains were drawn in the Cabinet Room and that Trump’s chair wasn’t in its normal place.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he too noticed something was off when lawmakers were led into the Cabinet Room, calling the whole experience “surreal.”

“I’ve been in many meetings there, in the Cabinet Room. And on yesterday, when we entered the room, I noticed something very different. All the curtains were drawn. As you know, that room, the windows, open out onto the Rose Garden. We couldn’t see out into the Rose Garden,” he recalled in an interview on MSNBC Thursday. “And it was for a good reason. They had moved all of the media into the Rose Garden. They had set up, as we found out later, a podium and posters in preparation for what they knew was going to be an aborted meeting.”

He continued: “So while we stood in darkness, the president entered the room, waving some papers in his hands. And he made it very clear that we would either legislate or investigate. That we could not do both. And until we, as members of Congress, give up our constitutional duties of oversight, we would not be able to work with him, or he was not willing to work with us, on trying to legislate. So it was kind of surreal.”

Nancy Pelosi

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the president’s actions appeared “choreographed” and proclaimed that the “petulant moment” would be one of the defining moments of Trump’s presidency.

“We prepared for it ahead of time. We arrived on time as required or expected of us, and the president had choreographed this appearance where he gave a three or four-minute speech, wheeled around and walked out of the room,” he said on “New Day.” ”In the highlight reel of the Trump presidency, if you had a camera in the room, you would have included that moment. It was a petulant moment, it was an awkward moment, and sadly, at the end of it, the American people were the losers.”

“What I saw was … a carefully choreographed decision to confront the Democratic leaders in Congress and then to walk out to the Rose Garden and tell his side of the story with prepared posters,” Durbin continued.

After ditching lawmakers Wednesday, Trump held a contentious news conference in the Rose Garden in which he railed against the slew of investigations into his administration, complete with glossy signage and handouts for reporters. The printed materials seemed an indication that the president’s frustration had been pre-planned, but Sanders said the placard affixed to the president’s podium had been printed weeks earlier.

“If you look at the president’s Twitter feed he actually tweeted the same graphic on April 20, so it’s not like this was some new talking point or some new moment,” she said.

Sanders and the president also disputed that Trump arrived at the meeting already upset. Democratic sources told POLITICO that the president was “clearly furious” when he came in the room, and ranted at them for several minutes. Trump complained that Pelosi had accused him of all these “horrible, horrible things” and said Democrats were “disrespectful.”

“He came in calmly, in command of the room and said ‘I want to do infrastructure, I want to get these things done, but you guys have to make a decision on whether or not you want to work with us or whether you want to spend all of your time attacking me,’” Sanders said.

Trump echoed that, writing in a tweet Thursday that “I was extremely calm yesterday with my meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, knowing that they would say I was raging, which they always do, along with their partner, the Fake News Media.”

He went on to deride the “Fake & Corrupt Press” for using “the Rage narrative anyway” in its reporting of the meeting.

In Trump’s telling on Wednesday, he told Schumer and Pelosi that “I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that. That is what I do. But you know what, you can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”

“Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that have just said that I was doing a cover-up. I don’t do cover-ups,” he claimed.

White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway also blasted the press Thursday, calling the stories about Trump’s demeanor “ridiculous.”

“he president was in a rage, he is fuming, stormed out, temper tantrum. There was none of that. He never raised his voice. He came in and sat at the table in the Cabinet Room and said look, folks, I want to do infrastructure and do great things for this country, but within the last hour you had a meeting and came out and said I’m engaged in a cover-up. That’s not true,” she said in an interview on Fox News. “He took the case directly to Nancy Pelosi.”

She went on to recap his pitch to Democrats, but vowed that Wednesday’s outburst was not a trap. “You can’t say that I’m engaged in a cover-up, you can’t want to impeach and investigate and pretend you want to legislate,” she said, dismissing Democrats’ so-called two-track strategy “nonsense.”

Still, she said, Democrats are welcome to return to the White House to discuss an infrastructure proposal.

“The president was serious about infrastructure. They ruined it by, an hour before that — basically with her car running waiting for her — saying he is engaged in a cover-up. Then coming over and pretending everything is great and that we’re going to discuss infrastructure? It was not a trap. The president is serious. They can come back if they want to talk about infrastructure.”

Pelosi ripped into Trump and his handlers in her weekly press conference over the previous day’s events, telling reporters that she wished Trump’s “family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.”

“What goes on there? Who’s in charge?” she asked. “And he says he’s in charge. And I suspect that he may be. And I suspect he may be even more since yesterday, because I don’t think that any responsible assistant to the president of the United States would have advised him to do what he did yesterday.”

Democrats on Thursday pushed back on Trump’s threats to wait out their oversight investigations and warned of broader consequences stemming from his refusal to cooperate.

“Every president, without exception, has been subject to investigation of some sort, and most every president hated it and did everything they could to discourage it, but then went on about the business of the office,” Durbin said.

He added: “If this president has said he is not going to be president, not going to use the office as he was given this opportunity by the American voters, until all investigations come to an end, I have news for him: In a transparent, accountable democracy, investigations never end. All of us, those on the Capitol side, those on the White House side have to accept the reality that a democracy requires investigations.”

Hoyer doubled down Thursday on his use of the term “cover up,” telling MSNBC that Trump “is acting like a man cornered.”

“He sees that the courts are not sustaining his cover-up, he’s refusing to respond, he’s ordering people not to testify, ordering departments not to turn over documents. I think he feels that things aren’t going his way and this is his response. It looks to me like he feels cornered.”

Schumer on Thursday warned that Trump was spurning Democrats at his own risk, proclaiming Trump’s tenure had been a “do-nothing, helter-skelter, radical presidency.”

“It doesn’t look good for him to anyone but his hardcore base, and even some of them are gonna start saying, ‘he’s not getting anything done,’” Schumer said. “It’s just a show.”

“A lot of people now see — more and more people — see that he’s not getting anything done. And he doesn’t realize what a liability that is. The presidency is not just a reality show. And if you don’t get real things done for the American people they’re going to want change again and they will want change away from Donald Trump,” he added later.

Schumer speculated that Trump’s inability to work with Democrats in Congress could ultimately result in Senate Republicans, worried about their electoral prospects, working around him altogether to craft an infrastructure deal, although there are few, if any, outwards signs of lawmakers moving in that direction.

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