Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
President Trump chastised his new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, over his handling of shutdown talks, creating an awkward scene in front of congressional leaders of both parties, according to two sources who were present.
Behind the scenes: The encounter came near the end of a meeting in the White House Situation Room on Jan. 4, these sources said. Trump had spent the meeting restating his demand for $5.7 billion for his wall. (Vice President Pence, at Trump's behest, had previously asked the Democrats for just $2.5 billion.)
- Mulvaney inserted himself into the conversation and tried to negotiate a compromise sum of money, according to the sources in the room. Mulvaney said "that if Dems weren't OK with $5.7 [billion] and the president wasn't OK with $1.3 [the Democratic offer] ... he was trying to say we should find a middle ground," one of the sources said, paraphrasing Mulvaney's remarks.
- "Trump cut him off ... 'You just fucked it all up, Mick,'" the source recalled Trump saying. "It was kind of weird."
- Another source who was in the room confirmed the account. That source said their impression was that Trump was irritated at Mulvaney's negotiating style. "As a negotiator, Trump was resetting," the source said. "Mick was not reading the room or the president."
- A White House official, who was in the room, responded to Axios' questions about the encounter: "This is an exaggerated account of the exchange that doesn't reflect the good relationship Mulvaney has built over the last two years with the president." (The official did not deny the quote we provided, but denied that it was as heated a moment as some in the room perceived it to be.)
- The same WH official said, "The president and Mulvaney joked about it afterwards."
Between the lines: A fourth source, who was not in the room but has observed Mulvaney and Trump's interactions during previous congressional talks, told me Trump has long been irritated that Mulvaney's initial 2019 budget only requested $1.6 billion for the wall. Democrats relish pointing this out, asking the White House why they're not happy getting the money they originally asked for.
- The answer: Trump signed off on that budget, but as we've previously reported, Trump privately asked, in a 2018 meeting attended by Mulvaney, "Who asked for $1.6 billion?"
Why it matters: Trump’s willingness to humiliate his top staffer in front of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi is another reminder — beyond Democratic unwillingness to fund a barrier — of why shutdown talks have made zero progress: Trump exhibits little regard for the credibility of his own deputies.