Accused of having a temper tantrum at the White House the day before, President Donald Trump did what anyone trying to prove their serenity would do: He put together a press conference during which he asked five aides to attest to his calmness.
On Thursday afternoon, Trump hosted a group of American farmers at the White House to tout his administration’s $16 billion aid plan for farmers afflicted by his ongoing trade war. But after singing their praises and promising relief to come, he quickly turned to the matter most clearly on his mind—reports that he’d lost his cool at a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the day before.
“Because I know they will always say that [I was angry]... I was so calm... I walked into the Cabinet Room, you had the group, Cryin' Chuck, Crazy Nancy... She’s lost it,” the president insisted on Thursday. For good measure, he later reiterated that he was an “extremely stable genius.”
Over the course of several minutes, the president asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, and two top communications hands—Mercedes Schlapp and Hogan Gidley—to relay to the gathered press that he was the picture of tranquility when he met Democratic congressional leaders day before.
“Very calm—I’ve seen both and this was definitely not angry or ranting [during Wednesday’s meeting],” Sanders said, right after Trump summoned her before the cameras. “Very calm, and straightforward, and clear that we have to actually get to work and do good things for the American people.”
The showcase was vintage Trump: the policy push of the day overwhelmed by internal insecurities and grievances with press coverage bursting into public view. And it underscored the degree to which his warfare with Nancy Pelosi has gone from political to psychological.
One day earlier, the speaker had accused the president of engaging in a “cover up” for refusing to comply with any congressional subpoenas and for instructing his top aides to not testify before relevant committees. When she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went to the White House later in the morning to discuss infrastructure reform, Trump admonished her and explained that he would not work with Democratic lawmakers on legislation until they dropped their investigations into Trump and his inner circle.
Trump left after roughly three minutes and without waiting for anyone else to speak, decamping to the Rose Garden to give a press conference where he admonished Pelosi some more.
Democratic leadership couldn’t have been more pleased with the events. One top House aide told The Daily Beast that Trump had handed the Speaker a gift. At a time when she is facing pressure within her base to pursue oversight of the administration more aggressively—including by giving impeachment a more honest consideration—Trump’s reaction could be held up as proof that her more meticulous approach was working.
“There are a lot more Democrats than is being written about in the press that are ready to go on impeachment,” said the aide. “And there are a lot of people who don’t want to get in front of Nancy. Trump has only helped her here.”
On Thursday morning, Pelosi convened a meeting of top House lawmakers to go over legislative priorities, during which she addressed the president’s response to her the day before.
“They have a bag of tricks. First was, bang on the table and walk out the door. The second was, call in the press and insult in the front of the press. And that didn’t work, neither of them worked for him,” she said, according to notes taken by an aide. “The third one was yesterday, and he’s blaming me for saying because I said cover-up – I’ve been saying cover-up for a long time…. What is driving him crazy is that I went out there and said – and they saw the tenor of this Caucus was not rapidly for impeachment. He wants to see impeach so he can be exonerated by the Senate so he doesn’t have to go to court later.”
An aide said that she did not see Trump’s Thursday press conference.
Few recurring characterizations bother President Trump more than the (largely accurate) narrative that he has a hair-trigger temper behind the scenes, and that he can easily and frequently be sent into vulgar, sometimes volcanic hissy fits when he doesn’t get his way.
In the middle of last year, Trump once sat in the White House and angrily listed various words in headlines and cable-news chyrons he’d seen recently that described his mood—“fuming,” “raged,” “furious,” and so forth—decrying them as inaccurate reporting, according to a source who was present for this. The president sounded increasingly irate as he rattled off headline after headline, the source said, noting the irony.
Asked on Thursday if he did, in fact, want to be impeached—as Pelosi alleged—Trump said no. Sort of.
“I don’t think anybody wants to be impeached,” he said.