WASHINGTON (AP) — He said she’s a third-rate politician. She said he’s having a meltdown.
And with that President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chalked up the latest explosive meeting that ended abruptly with a walkout at the White House.
It’s a familiar ritual, with Trump and congressional leaders meeting on official business, only to see the session devolve into colorful, name-calling commentary that’s a new kind of addition to the history books. But this time, against the backdrop of the fast-moving impeachment inquiry, Pelosi arrived not just as the leader of the opposing party, but as the speaker who could determine Trump’s political future.
The administration called in congressional leadership to discuss the situation in Syria. The House had just voted, 354-60, to overwhelmingly oppose the president’s announced U.S. troop withdrawal, a rare bipartisan rebuke. Trump’s action has opened the door for a Turkish military attack on Syrian Kurds who have been aligned with the U.S. in fighting the country’s long-running war.
Trump kicked off the meeting bragging about his “nasty” letter to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, according to a Democrat familiar with the meeting who was granted anonymity to discuss it. In the letter, Trump warned the Turkish leader, with exclamation points, not to be “slaughtering” the Kurds. The person called Trump’s opening a lengthy, bombastic monologue.
Pelosi mentioned the House vote and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, started to read the president a quote from former Defense Secretary James Mattis on the need to keep U.S. troops in Syria to prevent a resurgent of Islamic State fighters.
But Trump cut Schumer off, complaining that Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough.” Trump went on, “I captured ISIS.”
Pelosi explained to Trump that Russia has always wanted a “foothold in the Middle East,” and now it has one with the U.S. withdrawal, according to a senior Democratic aide who was also granted anonymity.
“All roads with you lead to Putin,” the speaker said.
Then it began.
Trump said to Pelosi, “I hate ISIS more than you do.”
Pelosi responded, “You don’t know that.”
Schumer intervened at one point and said, “Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?”
Trump replied, “Our plan is to keep the American people safe.”
Pelosi said: “That’s not a plan. That’s a goal.”
Trump turned to Pelosi and complained about former President Barack Obama’s “red line” over Syria before adding, “In my opinion, you are a third-grade politician.”
At that point, the genteel Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Majority Leader, interjected, “This is not useful.”
Pelosi and Hoyer stood and left the meeting. As they did, Trump said, “Goodbye, we’ll see you at the polls.”
From the White House driveway, Pelosi told reporters Trump was having some kind of “meltdown” inside. She said they had to leave because Trump was unable to grasp the reality of the situation.
Later, she would insist he even botched the insult, calling her “third-grade” rather than “third-rate.”
The impeachment inquiry never came up, she said.
Within hours, Trump was tweeting pictures from the room. “Do you think they like me?” he asked mockingly about one, showing Pelosi and Schumer looking exhausted and glum.
“Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!” he tweeted with another.
In that photo, Pelosi can be seen, surrounded by congressional leaders and military brass around a table at the White House, finger outpointed, standing up, literally, to Trump.