L to R: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi address reporters after White House meeting with Donald Trump, October 16, 2019
Donald Trump marks his 1,000th day in office by having a “meltdown” in a meeting with senior members of Congress.
Trump raged that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a “third-rate” or “third-grade” politician, leading to a breakdown of the encounter after only 20 minutes
The legislators from both parties requested the 20-minute White House session to brief Trump on a Congressional resolution criticizing his acceptance of a Turkish offensive into northeast Syria, attacking positions of Kurdish groups who had been supported by the US in the fight against the Islamic State.
Trump set the tone with his far-from-welcoming welcome, “They said you wanted this meeting. I didn’t want this meeting, but I’m doing it.”
He then tried to pre-empt the legislators with a speech about a “nasty” letter that he sent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on October 9, the day of the offensive’s launch, threatening Erdoğan and Ankara’s economy: “Don’t be a tough guy! Don’t be a fool!”
Trump directed House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy to hand out copies of the letter. But it failed to deflect bipartisan concerns about Trump’s abandonment of Kurdish allies, with whom the US military had worked since October 2015 to remove the Islamic State from northeast Syria.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recounted to reporters after the meeting:
And the fact that someone no less than General Mattis [Trump's former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] has said that ISIS has been enhanced, that the danger of ISIS is so much greater, worries all of us.
Trump exploded that Mattis, who left the Administration in December 2018 after Trump’s order to withdraw all US troops from Syria, was “the world’s most overrated general”: “You know why? He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”
The Pentagon and other US agencies pushed back Trump’s order, retaining about 1,000 troops including personnel alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. However, the Administration finally confirmed the withdrawal last weekend, in the wake of the Turkish offensive.
[Trump implicitly responded to Schumer in a statement to reporters that Kurds were “no angels” and that the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK is a bigger threat than ISIS.]
Pelosi tried to drive home the consequences, saying Russia would benefit as it “has always wanted a foothold in the Middle East”. She jabbed at Trump, “All roads with you lead to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
After another exchange over ISIS, Trump fired his “third-rate/third-grade” insult.
House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, “deeply offended” by Trump’s treatment of Pelosi, called for an end to the meeting: “This is not useful.”
Trump said to the departing lawmakers, “Goodbye. We’ll see you at the polls.”
Trump has a Presidential history of meetings collapsing in anger and fury. He walked out of a session with Pelosi and Schumer, yelling, “Bye bye”, when he could not get Congressional funding for his Wall with Mexico. He blew up a session in May, saying there would be no discussions without an end to investigations of his conduct and actions.
As on those occasions, the White House portrayed Trump as being in control. Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “The President was measured, factual and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi’s decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising.”
But Trump immediately challenged the “measured” portrayal through his tweets. Unsettled by the description of his “meltdown” at the meeting, he tried to turn it back on Pelosi:
Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown! pic.twitter.com/RDeUI7sfe7
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2019
He snapped, “Pray for her. She is a very sick person!”
Then Trump insisted, in an effort to rebut the criticism over Turkey and Syria, “I am the only person who can fight for the safety of our troops & bring them home from the ridiculous & costly Endless Wars.”
On Thursday morning, he returned to the main source of his angst, the Congressional investigations that are now an impeachment inquiry: “The Greatest Witch Hunt in American History!”