WASHINGTON -- A White House meeting between President Donald Trump and top congressional Democrats devolved Wednesday as the president pledged to not work with Democrats on infrastructure, lowering drug prices or any other priorities until they end investigations into his administration and campaign.
Trump left the meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., after just a few minutes, a move that the two Democrats said was staged ahead of time.
When the meeting was set to begin, the president was already loaded with reaction to Pelosi's comments following a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting earlier in the morning called to discuss congressional oversight and potential impeachment proceedings against the president.
"We believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up," Pelosi said.
"I don't do cover-ups," Trump responded at the Rose Garden news conference.
He insisted, as he has since Democrats won the House majority in November, that they could not investigate and legislate at the same time. "We're going to go down one track at a time," he said.
After the meeting, Schumer said that Democrats want to work on anything they can with the president, including bipartisan talks on issues including budget caps and disaster aid.
"We want to work with the president on anything we can, provided he's willing to work with us. And so far it doesn't look like it," Schumer said.
The Democrats and Trump are both claiming that they are more interested and more invested in an infrastructure plan than the other. Lawmakers in Congress from both parties have signaled they want an infrastructure package completed this year as industry groups warn that the nation's roads, bridges, ports, water systems and other public works are in decrepit condition and in desperate need of repair and upgrades.
"I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi, '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's what I do. But you know what? You can't do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with,'" Trump said.
Back at the Capitol, Schumer said his takeaway from the brief meeting was that Trump is not interested in working out a path forward on shoring up the nation's troubled infrastructure.
"We are interested in doing infrastructure. It's clear that the president isn't," he said.
The New York Democrat said he was prepared to give Trump a 35-page plan detailing the areas where Democrats want to invest in infrastructure.
"He just took a pass," Pelosi said of Trump declining to work with Democrats on infrastructure. She surmised that it may be "lack of confidence on his part" that he can rise to the challenge of delivering a bold $2 trillion package.
While both Republicans and Democrats say they want to make serious inroads into improving infrastructure, how to pay for an ambitious proposal is the main wedge between them.
Schumer said there were no indications leading up to or during the meeting that Trump was prepared to offer ideas on how to pay for an infrastructure package.
"Financing is the hardest part of infrastructure. And we think they were just not prepared to give an answer," he said. "Now that he was forced to say how he would pay for it, he had to run away. And he came up with this pre-planned excuse."
Pelosi and Schumer said political theater was at play before they had even arrived at the White House. The curtains were closed when the lawmakers walked in, according to Schumer.
"It's clear that this was not a spontaneous move on the president's part. It was planned," he said. "And of course he went to the Rose Garden with prepared signs that had been printed long before our meeting," he added.
Both parties knew that the meeting had the potential to go off the rails. Trump put Congress on notice in a letter Tuesday night saying that the $2 trillion infrastructure proposal would be contingent upon Congress backing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trade deal sometimes called the "new NAFTA."
"Before we get to infrastructure, it is my strong view that Congress should first pass the important and popular USMCA trade deal," Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi and Schumer Tuesday evening.
Trump did not mention trade or USMCA at the Rose Garden event.
(Elvina Nawaguna contributed to this report. )
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