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White House budget call devolves into chaos

The mute button can be a powerful thing. 

A White House conference call with reporters, intended as a victory lap for Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, quickly devolved into a scene out of an episode of the HBO series "Veep" on Tuesday morning. 

The White House had hoped the call would help push back on the idea that this week's trillion-dollar spending bill represented a significant win for Democrats. However, it was scheduled just 21 minutes before it began, apparently giving Mulvaney's staff little time to prepare.

As Mulvaney attempted to answer questions, open phone lines featuring a crying baby, an intermittent hacking cough, and patriotic hold-music quickly drowned him out. Some reporters eventually unmuted their phones, revolting with laughter and exclamations of disbelief over the line. 

"There has to be a better system, "a reporter on the call complained over the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. 

Mulvaney himself predicted the fate of the hastily-arranged briefing moments earlier. 

"This is going to be a disaster," the director stated flatly as he opened the floor for questions to over sixty reporters who had dialed into the conference call. 

Spending bill deal 01:28

Despite the technical difficulties, some reporters were able to make out Mulvaney's message on the fiscal 2017 budget: averting a government shutdown "in a way that allows the President to fund his priorities" is a win for the president, contrary to Democrats' declarations of victory for securing continued funding of Planned Parenthood and the extension of healthcare for coal miners. 

Defending President Donald Trump's tweets calling for a "shutdown" in September, which were fired off just an hour before the start of the call, Mulvaney explained that "we might need a shutdown at some point to drive home that this place — that Washington — needs to be fixed." 

"I think that's a defensible position, one we'll deal with in September," Mulvaney added. 

Mulvaney also went on to claim that the Democrats wanted a shutdown this week in order to make it look like Mr. Trump "did not know what he was doing." 

The on-the-record conversation was billed as a "Briefing on the Substance of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017." A briefing held by Mulvaney in the White House briefing room on Monday, titled "Briefing on the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017," was less chaotic and ironically more substantive. 

On the call, Mulvaney argued that it did not matter that this spending package provided no funds for Mr. Trump's proposed border wall. "We realized it was almost impossible, if not impossible, to actually get bricks and mortar on the ground in five months, so why start fighting about it now?" the budget director argued.

"Maybe if we do a really good job deploying the technology...maybe it'll help convince people that this is not just demagoguery. We are serious about securing the border," he added. 

Mr. Trump is expected to sign the five-month deal by the end of this week. 

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