A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the photos from the contentious meeting this week between the president and congressional leaders don’t tell the whole story, and those who were there are telling dramatically different versions. In fact, the two sides don’t even agree on who asked whom to meet.
Regardless of how it came together, House and Senate leaders caravanned down Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill to the White House on Wednesday to discuss with President Donald Trump the path forward in northern Syria – one week to the day after Turkey launched its offensive against the Kurds.
The lawmakers from both sides of the aisle entered the West Wing just before 3:30 p.m. By 4:10 p.m., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had walked out on the White House driveway.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Pelosi said, addressing reporters eager to hear about the first face-to-face meeting between the president and speaker since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry. “We were invited to a meeting with the president that comes at a very difficult time for him.”
Just prior to the meeting, the House had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution condemning the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria.
Pelosi attributed what she described as the president’s “meltdown” to that vote, saying “It shook him up, melted him down and he behaved accordingly.”
“The president immediately started off by saying that we asked for the meeting, which we had not,” she said. “You know, that’s a minor thing, it was not a particularly hospitable opening to the meeting.”
Hours later, President Trump turned to Twitter seemingly to get back at Pelosi, tweeting out a trio of photos from the Cabinet Room. One of them, showing Pelosi standing and pointing toward the president, has since gone viral. The text accompanying the photo reads, “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown,” echoing Pelosi’s criticism.
The tit-for-tat continued when the speaker subsequently turned the photo into the background on her Twitter page. When asked Thursday what was happening at the time the photo was taken, Pelosi smiled. “I think I was excusing myself from the room,” she said.
Pelosi said the president called her a “third-grade politician,” at which time House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urged her to leave the meeting. According to Democratic sources, as they left the room, Trump said, “Goodbye, we’ll see you at the polls.”
Schumer soon followed them, but hung back for a few minutes to express his concern over the security of ISIS prisoners formerly guarded by the Kurds.
At one point, Schumer began citing Trump’s former secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, who has warned ISIS will come back if the pressure on the terror group is relieved. According to sources, Trump interrupted, claiming credit for defeating ISIS and calling Mattis, “the world’s most overrated general.”
After the meeting ended, Republicans gathered on the White House driveway to share their account of what happened behind closed doors.
“I see a pattern of behavior with Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, the Speaker tries to make everything political. Her own statements weren’t productive. To storm out of a meeting, which I’ve watched time before during other crises, is really not the ability of a speaker or the style how a speaker should carry herself out.”
Pelosi pushed back on the Republicans’ account of how the meeting played out, and suggested a simple solution for achieving clarity.
“I think it would be interesting, you tell me, if we could have a recording of what goes on in those offices,” Pelosi mused. “Because when they come out and say, ‘Oh, this happened and that happened,’ and you’re like we must have been at two different meetings because that didn't happen.”
That would be interesting, indeed.