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Pelosi: Oval Office faceoff with Trump like 'a tinkle contest with a skunk'

From left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ,

From left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi , Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer meet in the Oval Office Tuesday.  Credit: Getty Images/Mark Wilson

Trump: I'll own a shutdown

The Mexican border wall Donald Trump wants didn't get any higher, but the threat of a partial government shutdown over his demand for $5 billion toward paying for it just got bigger. Also, the prospects got dimmer for how Trump will get on with Democrats, who will be stronger with a House majority as of January.

Those were the take-aways from an Oval Office meeting between Trump and the two Democratic leaders in Congress that turned into an unseemly spectacle of raised voices, interruptions, insults and threats. The capper was this Trump retort to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who tweaked the president for repeated false claims that the wall is already being built:

"I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump declared. “Because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into this country. So I will take the mantle, I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it.” (Of course he'll try, if it happens.)

When Trump said he could win the funding in the House, where the GOP has three weeks left in the majority, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi dared him, "OK, then do it. Then do it."

But Trump said he won't without securing the 10 Democrats he would need to get it through the Senate. Schumer said the Democrats' proposals would strengthen border security without a wall.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Pelosi and Schumer said Trump should accept one of the options they presented to keep the government funded beyond Dec. 21. “A shutdown hurts too many innocent people and this Trump shutdown, this temper tantrum that he seems to throw, will not get him his wall,” Schumer said.

For more, read Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Tom Brune. Click on the following links for video of the Oval Office confrontation, a transcript of the meeting and video of comments afterward by Pelosi and Schumer.

Mom vs. macho man

When he goes low, so can she. There was a subtext of gender politics in the tussle, as Pelosi, speaking about Trump, told House Democrats in a closed-door meeting afterward: "It's like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing."

Pelosi said that when Trump and Schumer were yelling at each other, “I was trying to be the mom. . . . It was so wild. It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

The California Democrat, still facing an intraparty challenge to her bid to become House speaker, bristled during the meeting when Trump said, "Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now."

"Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory," she retorted. 

It's unclear if Trump knew about Pelosi's post-mortem comments when he told reporters later in the day that the meeting was "friendly." He added, "I’ve actually liked them for a long period of time and I respect them both." But an administration official told The Los Angeles Times that Trump appeared upset after leaving the meeting, flicking a folder and sending its papers flying out.

View from the Hill: Yikes

The Oval Office awfulness  got poor reviews on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, where Republican leaders have spent weeks trying to steer Trump away from a shutdown, The Hill reported.

Asked if he had seen the exchange on television, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), said, “I did, unfortunately. I wish I didn’t.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Trump’s comments heighten the likelihood of a shutdown.

And if it happens, said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Schumer goaded Trump into owning it. “I think Sen. Schumer was very shrewd in his efforts to make sure whatever blame exists with the shutdown doesn’t rest with the Democrats,” Moran said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he’s never seen a spat play out so publicly at a senior-level White House meeting. “I’ve only been here with eight presidents,” said Leahy, who was elected to the Senate in 1974.

Janison: Cohen's judgment day

William H. Pauley III, a senior judge for the Southern District of New York, has a reputation as a "stern sentencer," especially for crimes of "greed or arrogance," according to a former prosecutor. That could give Michael Cohen something extra to worry about when he appears before Pauley Wednesday to hear his punishment for tax fraud, campaign finance violations and other charges.

According to the U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman's office, sentencing guidelines suggest incarceration of between 4 years, 3 months and 5 years, 3 months. Recommendations from Berman and special counsel Robert Mueller would let Cohen serve somewhat less  for his limited cooperation with prosecutors. That's where Pauley's discretion will come in. The judge, like the defendant, is a Long Island native. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.

Gridlock unlocked?

In the current climate, any bipartisan effort at problem-solving would seem like a miracle. But under pressure from Trump and many Republican senators, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he will bring legislation to the Senate floor to overhaul federal sentencing laws.  

Most Democrats and a significant group of Republicans have been trying for three years to move the bill to a vote. The measure would revise 1980s and '90s-era "tough on crime" laws to boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders. Some Republicans contend it would turn the law too soft on violent criminals.

The legislation has been a priority for Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who encouraged Trump to get behind it. 

A slow-moving fire

The long goodbye for John Kelly as Trump's chief of staff may get longer. With the White House frantically seeking to line up a replacement after the top candidate backed out, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday that Kelly would be staying on “at least” through Jan. 2  

A Trump tweet disputed reports that the recruitment effort has been difficult, saying "Why wouldn't someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington."

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking at a Politico forum, suggested Trump grew tired of Kelly's disagreements with his policies, hinting that the retired general let the disputes go public.

"I think the president is looking for somebody who believes in what we’re doing," she said.

Kelly was in the Oval Office during the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi meeting. A CBS reporter present said Kelly seemed amused when Trump spoke about lots of people wanting his job.

What else is happening:

  • In an interview with Reuters, Trump said he isn't worried about impeachment. "It’s hard to impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong and who’s created the greatest economy in the history of our country. ... I’m not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened.” he said.
  • First daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Kushner could benefit financially from an "Opportunity Zone" program they pushed at the White House. It is supposed to be for downtrodden areas but may affect his family firm's investments in expensive Brooklyn Heights, the AP reports.
  • The Justice Department says its charges against a Chinese telecom executive related to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran have nothing to do with the trade war. But Trump told Reuters he would intervene in the case “if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made."
  • Foreign governments, businesses and people targeted for U.S. sanctions have been hiring lobbyists and consultants with Trump administration ties seeking reprieves, The New York Times reported. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani went to a Washington reception for the Democratic Republic of Congo, accused by the U.S. of human rights abuses and corruption. He said later he's just looking for security consulting work.
  • After resisting efforts to fire him, the Trump administration has forced out a senior political appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Peter O'Rourke, who spent months on the federal payroll admittedly doing little to no work, The Washington Post reported. " There were times I didn’t have a lot to do," O'Rourke said.
  • Arguing for the wall, Trump said migrants are bringing "tremendous medical problems" and "disease," repeating fables from far-right media about the caravans. There is no available evidence suggesting immigrants have caused any modern disease outbreaks in the U.S., The Hill reports.
  • Trump was runner-up as Time magazine's 2018 Person of the Year to journalists who have been targets of violence and repressive governments including the slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In third place: Mueller.
  • Giuliani's assertion that "Truth isn't truth" won first place on a list of the most notable quotes of 2018 compiled for "The Yale Book of Quotations."

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