WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tangled Wednesday over her claim that he had engaged in a 'cover-up,' as vocal support for impeachment surged in the Democratic caucus.
"We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up," Pelosi told reporters in the morning, following a closed-door caucus meeting with Democratic lawmakers focused on impeachment.
The president later cut short a previously scheduled White House visit with Democratic leaders including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Railing about that meeting, he then held an impromptu Rose Garden event blasting her statement, and the mounting congressional probes into his conduct and finances.
“I don’t do cover-ups,” he said, adding that legislative cooperation would be on hold until Hill investigations ended.
Pelosi later said that at their closed-door White House meeting Trump had "come into the room and made a statement ... I won't even characterize it.”
Trump arrived late to that sit-down, according to two Democratic sources with knowledge of the meeting, and told the Democrats that while he was for infrastructure — the stated subject of the discussions — along with trade and the farm bill, he had heard about Pelosi's comments earlier in the morning. Expressing frustration with the earlier Democratic meeting on impeachment, he said those would need to be completed before the White House would discuss anything else with them. Minutes later, he walked out, the sources said.
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“For some reason, maybe it was lack of confidence on his part, he couldn’t match the greatness of the challenge,” Pelosi said. “He wasn't really respectful. He took a pass, and it just makes me wonder why he did that. In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”
Schumer echoed Pelosi's description of the meeting. “To watch what happened at the White House would make your jaw drop,” he said.
Pelosi’s "cover-up" comments Wednesday followed a closed-door caucus meeting for House Democrats in which chairmen of congressional committees pursuing investigations of the president laid out their strategies and their latest victories. Presentations were made by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Nadler said the Judiciary panel “will not sit idly by and wait” as the administration stonewalls Democrats, a Democratic source said. He added that special counsel Robert Mueller needs to testify in public about his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The chairman also raised the importance of enforcing subpoenas and voting on contempt as soon as possible. His committee voted to recommend that the House hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt, a vote that’s expected to come to the House floor next month.
Schiff spoke about an agreement he had reached with the Department of Justice late Tuesday night in which it will begin to turn over 12 categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials to the committee, which he said should be completed by the end of the week.
Members who emerged from the meeting said that Pelosi did not speak about the elephant in the room — impeachment — and instead her team distributed a sheet of talking points to members.
“Follow the facts to uncover the truth for the American people,” the first point said. “No one is above the law — this administration must be held accountable to the American people for concealing the truth,” the second one said. And lastly, it said, “Cover-up, the Trump administration is engaged in the most significant cover-up in modern history.”
Few members who left the meeting said that they were suddenly in favor of opening an impeachment inquiry, but several said they were heading in that direction.
“With every new point of resistance and ignoring the constitutional responsibility of Congress, people are saying, 'hey, we can’t just sit here and do nothing.' I’m not there, but boy, am I closer than I was,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said. “All of this resistance is what’s causing people to have second thoughts about impeachment.”
“I’m getting there,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., told reporters about opening an impeachment inquiry. “I think we’re more unified in the sense that if this president doesn’t comply [with congressional requests], then our options are going to be limited. I think for some people, it’s a question of when ... I think the president is behaving in a way that leaves us very few options.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said that Democrats are unified behind the message of proceeding aggressively, but said that the group advocating an impeachment inquiry is “still a small fraction of the 239 members” of the caucus.
Asked if he is closer to impeachment, Jeffries said, “I’m of the view that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States of America. We’re going to teach him that lesson one way or the other.”
Almost a dozen out of the 24 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee — which has the power to conduct impeachment proceedings — have voiced support for opening an inquiry. Most of them have only come out in favor of initiating one since Monday, coming in the wake of Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., backing impeachment proceedings over the weekend.
More than two dozen members out of the Democratic caucus as a whole have said they back an impeachment inquiry.