WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that President Donald Trump's "meltdown" a day earlier was spurred by pointed questions about his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.
Pelosi, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill during her weekly news conference, said that during the Wednesday meeting at the White House, she brought up the overwhelming 354-60 vote the House took denouncing the president's actions and calling on the White House to present a plan for countering the Islamic State militant group.
"I also pointed out to the president — I had concerns that all roads seemed to lead to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. The Russians have been trying to gain a foothold in the Middle East for a long time, unsuccessfully," Pelosi said.
The president, by withdrawing U.S. troops from the region to clear the way for a Turkish military operation, has given Moscow an "opportunity" in Syria, she said, adding that the Russians were also "beneficiaries" of the United States withholding assistance to Ukraine — an allegation at the heart of the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.
"Again, Putin benefits," Pelosi said.
Trump argued during the meeting, she said, that he withdrew U.S. military personnel from northern Syria because he promised during his 2016 presidential campaign to bring the troops home.
"My question to him is — is Saudi Arabia home? Why are our troops going to Saudi Arabia if you promised to bring them home?" she told reporters.
The president announced last week that he would deploy almost 3,000 additional U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, a move that came on the heels of Trump's abrupt decision to pull troops out of Syria.
According to Pelosi, Trump responded, the Saudis are "paying for it."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile, was forceful in demanding to know what the president’s plan will be to counter ISIS, she added.
"It just didn't add up," Pelosi said of Trump's responses. “But what it did do was cause a meltdown on the part of the president because he was unhappy with those questions.”
Pelosi also said that congressional leaders were invited to the White House for the meeting to discuss the president’s Syria decision, but that "the president started off the meeting by saying, 'I don’t know who asked for this meeting — I didn't.'" The meeting proceeded before quickly becoming tense.
Trump tweeted a series of photos from the meeting Wednesday, including one that he labeled, "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown." Pelosi later made the image her cover photo on Twitter. She appeared to be the only woman at the table and was physically standing up to the president while the rest of the participants were sitting down.
Asked what she may have been saying in the photo, Pelosi said it was either her excusing herself from the meeting or “I was probably saying all roads lead to Putin.”
Democratic leaders said after the meeting Wednesday that the moment that prompted them to abruptly leave was when Trump called Pelosi "a third-rate politician" to her face.
"He was insulting, particularly to the speaker," Schumer told reporters later Wednesday. "She kept her cool completely. But he called her a third-rate politician. He said that there are communists involved and you guys might like that. I mean, this was not a dialogue. It was sort of a diatribe — a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts, particularly the fact of how to curtail ISIS, a terrorist organization that aims to hurt the United States in our homeland."
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has denied Democrats' characterization of the meeting, calling Trump "measured, factual and decisive" and Pelosi's departure "baffling, but not surprising." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said that Pelosi had stormed out of the room in an "unbecoming" fashion.
"It's very disappointing to see the Democratic leadership walk out of this meeting," he said Wednesday.
Pelosi, asked about the differing accounts Thursday, floated the idea that such meetings should be recorded.