With a backdrop of US war graves, President Donald Trump plunged back into partisan politics with a blazing attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, turning the page on one of the most successful and even-tempered foreign trips of his presidency.
The comments underlined how Trump’s whirl of encounters with British royals and American wartime valor will be just pleasant memories Friday when he arrives home to face seething crises he escalated while abroad.
Trump, speaking from the Normandy American Cemetery, blasted the Pelosi as a “disgrace” after Politico reported that she said, “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison.”
His broadside underscored his code of striking back hard when he is criticized, whatever the circumstances, as well as the increasingly vitriolic relationship between the two leaders at a time when Democrats are accelerating investigations against the President.
“I’ve tried to be nice to her because I would’ve liked to have gotten some deals done,” he said in the interview from France with Fox News, which aired Thursday night, in response to Pelosi’s reported comment. “She’s incapable of doing deals.”
“She’s a nasty, vindictive, horrible person,” the President added.
Trump supporters might argue that Pelosi’s reported comments – made behind closed doors – still break the unspoken “water’s edge” tradition of refraining from attacking a President when he is abroad. Trump, though, has often broken the taboo himself – for instance using a trip to Japan last month to slam Democrats and potential 2020 rival Joe Biden.
When he lands in Washington, the President, who spent the night at his Irish golf resort, will be immediately confronted with a new trade war with Mexico on which he doubled down during his trip to Britain, France and Ireland and is defying mediation efforts.
New confrontations also loom next week, with Democratic leaders who are under rising pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers for impeachment proceedings in response to what they see as Trump’s abuses of power in the 2016 election and as President.
Each active front in the perpetual Trump-era political drama in Washington can all or in part be chalked up to his confrontational approach. But at least Trump can reflect, as he flies across the Atlantic, on a five-day journey in which he was both feted by a queen and performed a solemn thank you and farewell to the greatest generation.
He reveled in his welcome from Queen Elizabeth II’s royal court, was magnanimous toward outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May and delivered a moving tribute to D-Day veterans in Normandy. The President mostly kept his Twitter salvos targeting his enemies and political jabs for after hours.
British officials were relieved that Trump left the country without any political disasters. The White House, which hasn’t had many overseas wins, is also pleased with the trip.
Trump’s reception was a reminder of the power of the United States and the institution of the presidency, notwithstanding his poor approval ratings in Europe and the headaches he has caused for allied leaders over the past two years.
The low expectations for Trump’s trip, however – following his outbursts at summits and other unpredictable behavior – also reflect diminished expectations for this particular White House.
Had any other US President engineered such an overt intervention in domestic UK politics with his comments on the Conservative Party leadership race and Brexit, or seemed so hazy on the details of a possible US-UK trade deal and Northern Ireland, the reaction would have been far more critical.
While Trump was in France on Thursday, his team back in Washington was frantically trying to find an off-ramp for the latest tariff confrontation with Mexico, though time to seal a deal is running short.
While the President has sent conflicting signs about his threat to impose 5% tariffs that would escalate by 5% a month if Mexico does not do more to halt the flow of migrants, his vice president and press secretary indicated Thursday that plans for the tariffs were proceeding.
“Something pretty dramatic could happen,” Trump told reporters in Ireland on Thursday.
But, he added, “we’ve told Mexico the tariffs go on. And we mean it, too.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the US “position has not changed, and we are still moving forward with tariffs at this time.”
Vice President Mike Pence echoed that message shortly afterward.
“The President announced 5% tariffs would be imposed on Monday on all goods coming from Mexico. That’s the policy of the United States,” he said. “The President said what he means and he means what he says.”
Trump faces a Friday deadline to sign an executive order to ensure the tariffs go into effect by Monday’s deadline.
Trump’s sudden offensive against Mexico represents his latest effort to quell a crisis at the border that his hardline rhetoric and flexing of executive power have failed to solve.
In May, more than 144,000 migrants were encountered or arrested at the frontier – a roughly 32% increase over April and the highest monthly tally in 13 years, according to US officials.
Uncertainty over which way the President will lean on Mexico deepened when he tweeted early Thursday that “progress is being made, but not nearly enough!”
His hint of flexibility in Ireland could be a sign that he is feeling heat from Republican senators, who have not ruled out an attempt to block the tariffs from going into force.
If the President’s hard-line tactics force Mexico to do more to halt the large numbers of undocumented migrants – or even if it offers cosmetic concessions – Trump could claim a political victory. But the spat is yet another indication of how his reliance on tariffs as a primary foreign-policy tool maneuvers him into tough political corners.
Talks on the showdown intensified in Washington on Thursday, stretching into the night, and officials from the White House, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security met to discuss next steps.
“What Mexico is offering is not enough,” said Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday, however, that he was “optimistic” a deal could be reached.
‘I want to see him in prison’
If the President’s latest clash with Mexico does get solved before Monday, next week is still certain to see a worsening of Washington’s already fractious political climate.
Democrats on Thursday released the text of a contempt resolution targeting Attorney General William Barr and ex-White House counsel Don McGahn ahead of a full House vote next week.
New controversy is surrounding Pelosi, who is facing rising pressure in her Democratic caucus to subject Trump to the drama of an impeachment inquiry.
Politico reported that at a meeting on Tuesday night in which House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler asked to open proceedings against the President, Pelosi said: “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison.”
The report, quoting multiple Democratic sources, was not denied by Pelosi’s office. The speaker has been loath to initiate the impeachment process, fearing that it could backfire and give the President a platform to boost his reelection effort.
The report added extra spice to the already tumultuous relationship between Trump and Pelosi, the two most politically powerful figures in Washington, who are both constantly sculpting the battlefield ahead of the 2020 election.
Republicans, who control the Senate and are unlikely to vote to convict Trump in any impeachment trial, are already capitalizing on the reported remark to hint at Democratic overreach.
“She didn’t say that. No, she didn’t say that,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “To go to prison, you’ve got to violate a law. What law’s been violated?”
CNN’s Kate Sullivan, Jeremy Diamond and Kaitlin Collins contributed to this report.