WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday transformed what was to be a private negotiating session with Democratic congressional leaders into a bitter televised altercation over his long-promised border wall, vowing to force a year-end government shutdown if they refused to fund his signature campaign promise.
During an extraordinary public airing of hostilities that underscored a new, more confrontational dynamic in Washington, Mr. Trump vowed to block full funding for the government if Democrats refused to allocate money for the wall on the southwestern border, saying he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders, seated on couches flanking Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, took issue with the president’s position and his false assertions about the wall in front of a phalanx of news cameras, imploring him repeatedly to continue the tense conversation without reporters present. But Mr. Trump insisted on a conspicuous clash that undercut Republican congressional leaders and his own staff working to avoid a shutdown at all costs, or at least to ensure that Democrats would shoulder the blame for such a result.
“If we don’t have border security, we’ll shut down the government — this country needs border security,” Mr. Trump declared as the testy back and forth unfolded, and Mr. Schumer reminded the president repeatedly that he had called several times for a shutdown, appearing to goad him into taking responsibility.
“You want to know something?” Mr. Trump finally said, exasperated. “I’ll tell you what: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.”
“I will take the mantle,” Mr. Trump went on. “I will be the one to shut it down — I’m not going to blame you for it.”
The scene raised fresh questions about whether Mr. Trump and lawmakers could reach agreement by a Dec. 21 deadline to keep much of the government open, appearing to harden diametrically opposed positions on the wall.
It also showcased the interplay of two politicians playing to very different bases: Mr. Trump appealing to his core anti-immigration supporters and Ms. Pelosi, her party’s nominee for House speaker, to the young liberal lawmakers she needs to keep in her camp ahead of a formal election next month that she must win to secure the gavel.
Aides say Mr. Trump respects what he sees as Ms. Pelosi’s toughness in the political trenches, but he sought on Tuesday to undercut her position by raising questions about her job security. “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now,” Mr. Trump said at one point, alluding to Ms. Pelosi’s struggle to garner the votes to be elected speaker.
“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,” Ms. Pelosi shot back. She also challenged the president’s strength within his own party, questioning his ability to get the wall funding he is demanding through the Republican-led House. When the president said he could win such a vote “in two seconds,” Ms. Pelosi dared the president: “Then do it.”
Later at the Capitol, Ms. Pelosi spared little venom in privately describing the president’s demeanor to a roomful of colleagues.
“This wall thing” of Mr. Trump’s is “like a manhood thing for him — as if manhood could ever be associated with him,” Ms. Pelosi told fellow Democrats, according to an aide present for the remarks who insisted on anonymity to relay parts of the meeting.
Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer also sparred with Mr. Trump about the financing of the wall, after the president insisted that Mexico would pay for it through money that would flow into the United States as part of a new North American trade agreement. The Democrats told Mr. Trump that that would never happen. Ms. Pelosi said she had told the president that any economic gains from the pact should go to American workers and businesses, not a border wall.
“Well, they’re going to pay for it one way or the other,” Mr. Trump insisted, in Ms. Pelosi’s retelling.
Outside the West Wing after the meeting, Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump had thrown a “temper tantrum” over the wall, later telling reporters, “You heard the president: He wants a shutdown.”
In a statement shortly afterward, Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi said it was up to Mr. Trump to avert the disaster he had promised, by embracing their proposals to essentially postpone the dispute for another year, either by passing the six noncontroversial spending measures that are outstanding and extending homeland security funding for one year at current levels, or by passing one-year extensions for all seven remaining bills.
The president “said he would think about it,” Mr. Schumer later told reporters.
Despite the public meltdown, Mr. Trump appeared to be open to a way out of the impasse. He called Ms. Pelosi hours after the meeting, she said, and was still reviewing the options that the Democrats had presented. Mr. Trump even went into a lofty speech during the Oval Office session, once reporters had departed, in which he mused about the potential for him to work alongside Democratic leaders in the new Congress to strike great deals.
Gesticulating grandly with Vice President Mike Pence looking on, Mr. Trump told Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi that the new Congress could be the “greatest Congress in the history of Congress,” according to a person familiar with the discussion who described it on the condition of anonymity because it was private. And the president assured them that if they could strike deals that could get through the House, he would compel Republican senators to back them.
On Tuesday, though, such compromises were not in evidence. Mr. Trump’s outburst left Republican congressional leaders in a tricky spot, publicly rejecting a shutdown that their president had promised.
“I hope that’s not where we end up,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, told reporters. “It was a rather spirited meeting we all watched, but I’d still like to see a smooth ending here.”
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said, “My experience has been that shutdowns don’t help anybody.”
Earlier, Mr. Pence — who sat silently through the Oval Office meeting and later traveled to the Capitol to brief Republicans — drew laughter from a roomful of senators when he described the meeting as “memorable” and said, “There appears to be a disagreement.”
The meeting — the first time in more than a year that the pair the president likes to call “Chuck and Nancy” traveled to the White House to negotiate with Mr. Trump — was to be a private session. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later said that Mr. Trump had been “grateful for the opportunity” to place his disagreement with Democrats on display.
Mr. Trump appeared to taunt Mr. Schumer.
“You don’t want to shut down the government, Chuck,” Mr. Trump told his fellow New Yorker, referring to a brief shutdown in January when Democrats insisted that protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children must be part of any funding measure. “The last time you shut it down, you got killed.”
Veteran legislators expressed outrage.
“This is the only time I’ve seen anything as irresponsible as a president who says he wants a government shutdown,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who has served for more than 40 years.
The president has suggested, repeatedly, that a shutdown might be necessary to compel Democrats to swallow $5 billion in wall funding. But on Tuesday before the meeting, he had appeared to back off slightly.
In a series of morning tweets, he falsely stated that substantial sections of the “Great Wall” had already been completed, and he suggested that his administration could continue construction whether Democrats funded it or not.
That would be illegal, but it suggested that he was looking for a way to keep the government funded past Dec. 21, even if Democrats balk at wall funding.
“People do not yet realize how much of the Wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built,” Mr. Trump wrote in one of the tweets . “If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall. They know how important it is!”
It was not clear what Mr. Trump was referring to. American troops he dispatched to the border on the eve of the midterm congressional elections as part of what the president called an effort to head off a migrant “invasion” have put up concertina wire along existing fences and barriers, but the administration has yet to spend much of the $1.3 billion Congress approved for border security last year. Under restrictions put in place by Congress, none of that money can be used to construct a new, concrete wall of the sort the president has said is vital.
The president does not have the legal authority to spend money appropriated for one purpose on another task, such as wall-building.