WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a meeting with top congressional Democrats at the White House on Wednesday, telling lawmakers he could not work on bipartisan legislation amid a crush of congressional investigations and as House Democrats debate the prospect of impeachment hearings.
Trump called off the meeting after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with her caucus about impeachment before heading to the White House and accused Trump afterward of engaging in a “cover-up.” Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and a group of top-ranking Democrats were originally slated to talk with Trump about a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
“Instead of walking in happily to a meeting, I walk in to look at people who said I was doing a cover-up,” Trump told reporters at a hastily convened news conference in the Rose Garden, where he stood behind a sign that read “NO Obstruction. NO Collusion.”
Trump asserted: “I don’t do cover-ups."
The meeting was initially set last month to discuss Trump's plans for funding the infrastructure package. Instead, for nearly three minutes on Wednesday the president scolded Democrats and demanded they drop their series of House probes launched in the wake of the special counsel’s Russia investigation, before walking out of the White House Cabinet Room, according to Democratic sources.
Pelosi and Schumer, speaking afterward at a news conference on Capitol Hill, blamed the president for deciding to shut down the meeting before it even began, saying he just latched onto the House investigations as an excuse.
“It’s clear that this was not a spontaneous move on the president’s part,” Schumer said. “It was planned. When we got in the room, the curtains were closed. There was a place for him at the front so he could stand and tell us why he wouldn’t do infrastructure. And then, of course, he went to the Rose Garden with prepared signs that had been printed up long before our meeting.”
Prior to the meeting, amid growing Democratic unrest with the White House stonewalling of House requests for documents and testimony, Pelosi (D-Calif.) presided over a caucus meeting at which five committee chairs spoke about the status of their investigations into Trump and his policies.
“We do believe it’s important to follow the facts, 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 — in a cover-up,” Pelosi said after the meeting.
Trump took aim at the timing of the Pelosi’s meeting, saying “all of a sudden” he heard House Democrats planned to hold a meeting in the morning to discuss “the ‘I’ word.”
The president said he told Schumer and Pelosi he wanted to work on infrastructure: “But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”
Schumer said Democrats had heard signals that Trump might not be serious about saying how he would pay for infrastructure, but said Democrats took the meeting seriously, even bringing a 35-page plan detailing all the areas where the money would be spent.
“He is looking for every excuse, whether it was let’s do trade first, or whether it was he’s not going to pay for any funding, or whether today that there are investigations going on,” Schumer said. “Hello, there were investigations going on three weeks ago when we met. And he still met with us.”
Pelosi doubled down on the comments that so irked Trump at a conference of the Democratic group Center for American Progress.
"This is why I think the president was so steamed off this morning, because the fact is in plain sight, in the public domain, this president is obstructing justice and he’s engaged in a cover-up. And that could be an impeachable offense," Pelosi said.
At the Wednesday morning caucus meeting, Pelosi sought to tamp down growing pressure to open an impeachment inquiry by showcasing the success of a half dozen key committees in their drive for documents.
Many lawmakers said after the meeting they were frustrated with the White House refusal to cooperate, but pointed to a swift ruling Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta saying Trump can’t block a House subpoena to his accountant as a sign the process is working.
Two of Long Island’s Democrats displayed the divide among House Democrats.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), who would like to see Pelosi replaced as speaker, said in a tweet it’s time to start impeachment.
“For over two years the President has systematically dismantled our democracy and defied the rule of law,” she tweeted. “We need to start impeachment proceedings. The President is not above the law.”
But Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said, “I think we should follow the Speaker’s lead.”
He said he backs Pelosi’s methodical process of fact-gathering through investigations and testimony by current and former officials while continuing the Democrats’ legislative agenda. “It’s a delicate balance,” he said.
Later Wednesday, House Democrats scored another first-step success in getting documents when U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in New York refused to block House subpoenas for financial records related to Trump from Deutsche Bank and Capital One.