VOA's Patsy Widakuswara at the White House and Jesusemen Oni contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — A rare bipartisan commitment between the White House and Congress to make a sweeping agreement on infrastructure has dramatically collapsed.
U.S. President Donald Trump refused to shake hands with lawmakers or sit for a scheduled Oval Office meeting with Congressional Democrats on Wednesday morning, according to those in the room. He then berated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her comments, earlier in the day, accusing him of a "cover up."
A visibly angry Trump left after three minutes heading into the Rose Garden to inform a hastily arranged news conference, "I don't do cover ups."
He accused Democrats of holding a meeting the same morning to discuss "the I word" – impeachment.
The president said he told Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that he wanted to make an infrastructure deal more than they did, but "you can't do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with."
The president, in the Rose Garden, termed Special Counsel Robert Mueller's two-year investigation "a take-down attempt at the president of the United States."
The outdoor event, steps away from the Oval Office, had obviously been planned far enough in advance to give time to print a placard to place in front of the lectern that denounced the Mueller investigation as a waste of time and money that resulted in "NO Collusion/NO Obstruction."
Schumer and Pelosi, moments later back on Capitol Hill, accused the president of orchestrating the walkout as an excuse not to negotiate on infrastructure.
"To watch what happened in the White House would make your jaw drop," said Schumer. "He came up with a pre-planned excuse."
Schumer said Trump was forced to run away when he could not say how he would pay for an infrastructure bill.
Pelosi accused the president of being unable to "match the greatness of the challenge before him."
"He just took a pass," she said. "I pray for the president and for the United States of America."
The apparent loss of an infrastructure deal is lamentable as the issue is so important to the American people, according to Michele Nellenbach, director of strategic initiatives at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
"They're tired of sitting in traffic, they're tired of worrying about the quality of their water services," Nellenbach tells VOA. "We've got folks in rural America who don't have access to broadband, it is a crushing, important need. And I think if members of Congress and the president can put that need first, we can get a bipartisan infrastructure bill."
Later, in remarks to the Center for American Progress, Pelosi said: "This is why I think the president was so steamed off this morning: Because the fat is in plain sight, in the public domain, this president is obstructing justice and he's engaged in a cover up. And that could be an impeachable offense."
White House officials say several aides close to the president attempted to persuade him not to leave the meeting with the lawmakers.
Trump had become angry, officials confirm, just prior to the meeting when Pelosi accused the president of "a cover up" by not cooperating with Congress in requests for testimony from former staff and to hand over documents related to various investigations into his 2016 election campaign and his presidency.
Trump, the previous evening, had sent a letter to Pelosi and Schumer saying there could not be an infrastructure deal until Congress approved the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement, which was the first indication Wednesday morning's White House meeting with lawmakers would be contentious.
After Trump made his statement to reporters, he took a couple of questions from them and then walked away from the lectern, ignoring further press queries.
The door to the Oval Office slammed shut as the president returned to the Resolute Desk.