WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump openly fought with the top two Democratic lawmakers in the Oval Office on Tuesday about government funding, throwing into question whether a deal to avert a government shutdown was possible ahead of a deadline next week.
In a remarkable public argument, the likes of which is seldom seen before cameras, Mr Trump brawled with US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi about paying for a wall on the US-Mexico border that they see as ineffective and wasteful.
"If we don't get what we want, one way or the other - whether it's through you, through a military, through anything you want to call - I will shut down the government," Mr Trump said as the heated argument drew to a crescendo.
"I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don't want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country," he said, before reporters left their ringside seats.
Vice-President Mike Pence sat beside Mr Trump, silent and stone-faced.
While Mr Trump's fellow Republicans control both the House and the Senate until next month, Democratic support is needed to pass any spending legislation.
If the impasse cannot be resolved by Dec 21, about one-quarter of the federal government immediately would be left without funding. Money for the rest of the government has already been appropriated.
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session. It would be done.
HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER NANCY PELOSI: Well then - go do it, go do it.
MS PELOSI: I don't think we should have a debate in front of the press on this. Let's call a halt to this.
MR TRUMP: It's not bad, Nancy - it's called transparency.
Mr Trump has asked Congress for US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) for border security, while Mr Schumer and Ms Pelosi have offered to extend funding at current levels, around US$1.3 billion. That is less than the US$1.6 billion a bipartisan Senate committee approved.
While the battle over border security is contentious, the money being negotiated is a small portion of a US$450 billion bill to keep agencies operating through next September.
In an interview with Reuters later in the day, Mr Trump did not rule out a compromise on the funding.
"We have to see what else is entailed," he said.
The meeting did not last long after reporters were ushered out of the Oval Office. But the harsh words continued during a closed meeting of House Democrats.
According to an aide, Ms Pelosi said Mr Trump's fixation with building a wall was "like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him".
Ms Pelosi told reporters that, later in the day, she and Mr Trump spoke by telephone, and the President said he was reviewing the offer made by Democrats during the White House meeting.
Despite the rancour, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told reporters: "I'd still like to see a smooth ending here and I haven't given up hope that's what we'll have."
Tuesday's fight kicked off when Ms Pelosi told Mr Trump that Americans did not want to see a "Trump shutdown", touching a nerve.
Mr Trump cut her off, arguing that he could not advance a funding Bill without Democratic votes in the Senate. He bragged: "If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session. It would be done."
"Well then - go do it, go do it," Ms Pelosi shot back.
Senior White House staff watched the melee from the edges of the room.
"I don't think we should have a debate in front of the press on this," Ms Pelosi said, adding: "Let's call a halt to this."
Mr Trump replied: "It's not bad, Nancy - it's called transparency."