WHITE HOUSE – Congressional Democratic Party lawmakers abruptly left a White House meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday concerning the crisis along the Turkish-Syrian border.
The president called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California a “third-grade politician,” according to those who attended.
“We were offended, deeply. Never have I seen a president treat so disrespectfully a co-equal branch of the government,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, alongside Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York outside the White House West Wing.
The House speaker told reporters Trump had “a meltdown” in the Cabinet Room because of the number of Republicans who had joined Democrats on Capitol Hill in approving a resolution condemning his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.
“And that’s why we couldn’t continue in the meeting — because he was just not relating to the reality of it,” Pelosi said.
The speaker added that Trump appeared upset, saying he had not invited the Democratic leadership to attend the bipartisan meeting.
FILE – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 13, 2019.
“We didn’t invite ourselves,” Hoyer told reporters.
Schumer described the meeting as a diatribe, rather than a dialogue.
Pelosi, later back on Capitol Hill, remarked, “I think now we have to pray for his health.”
Democrats who were at the meeting said that when Schumer pointed to concerns raised by James Mattis as defense secretary that the Islamic State group would resurge if the United States withdrew its troops from Syria, Trump reacted by insulting the retired general, calling him overrated and saying he “wasn’t tough enough,” especially when it came to handling IS.
Schumer told reporters that he inquired about whether there was “any intelligence evidence that the Turks and Syrians will have the same interest that the Kurds or we did in guarding ISIS [Islamic State]. And the secretary of defense — thank God he was honest — said, ‘We don’t have that evidence.’ So, I said: ‘How can we think this is a plan?’ ”
Republicans who were in attendance said that it was Pelosi who was insulting toward the president and that her conduct was unbecoming of a congressional leader.
Some other Democrats remained for the discussion after their leadership left, with Republicans and the White House describing the meeting as productive from that point forward.
“The president was measured, factual and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi’s decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising. She had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “While Democratic leadership chose to storm out and get in front of the cameras to whine, everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, left, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, speak with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington.
Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters the most significant outcome of the meeting was that Trump, in contrast to his earliest comments, stated that a residual U.S. force would be left in the region.
McCaul also noted that the president had sent a stern letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning him of debilitating sanctions if he did not reverse course on Syria.
That letter, which began circulating during the lawmakers’ meetings with the president, drew considerable attention for its unconventional style.
The letter, dated October 9, begins, “Let’s work out a great deal!” Trump says the Turkish leader doesn’t have to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and he threatens, as the U.S. president, that he does not want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy by imposing sanctions.
The letter goes on to warn Erdogan: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “don’t be a fool.”